Russian nationalists and some lawmakers have demanded punishment for commanders they accused of ignoring dangers as anger grew over the killing of dozens of Russian soldiers in one of the Ukraine war’s deadliest strikes.
In a rare disclosure, Russia’s defence ministry said 63 soldiers were killed on New Year’s Eve in a fiery blast that destroyed a temporary barracks in a vocational college in Makiivka, twin city of the Russian-occupied regional capital of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine.
Russian critics said the soldiers were being housed alongside an ammunition dump at the site, which the Russian defence ministry said was hit by four rockets fired from US-made HIMARS launchers.
The New Year’s Eve strike on Makiivka came as Russia was launching what have become nightly waves of drone attacks on Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities.
Ukrainian officials said Russia had on Monday struck Ukraine-controlled parts of the Donetsk region, hitting the village of Yakovlivka, the city of Kramatorsk and destroying an ice rink in the town of Druzhkivka.
Ukraine said the Russian death toll in Makiivka was in the hundreds, though pro-Russian officials called that an exaggeration.
Russian military bloggers said the extent of the destruction was a result of storing ammunition in the same building as a barracks, despite commanders knowing it was within range of Ukrainian rockets.
Igor Girkin, a former commander of pro-Russian troops in eastern Ukraine who is now one of the highest profile Russian nationalist military bloggers, said hundreds had been killed or wounded. Ammunition had been stored at the site and military equipment there was uncamouflaged, he said.
“What happened in Makiivka is horrible,” wrote Archangel Spetznaz Z, a Russian military blogger with more than 700,000 followers on the Telegram messaging app.
“Who came up with the idea to place personnel in large numbers in one building, where even a fool understands that even if they hit with artillery, there will be many wounded or dead?” he wrote. Commanders “couldn’t care less”, he said.
Ukraine almost never publicly claims responsibility for attacks on Russian-controlled territory in Ukraine and President Volodymyr Zelenskiy did not address the Makiivka strike in his nightly speech on Monday.
But the General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces reported the Makiivka attack as “a strike on Russian manpower and military equipment”. It did not mention casualties, but said 10 pieces of military equipment were destroyed.