KYIV: Russia on Monday said more than 60 soldiers were killed in a Ukrainian strike on Russian-controlled territory in a bloody New Year’s weekend for both sides of the conflict. Kyiv took responsibility for the strike which it said took place in the occupied city of Makiivka in eastern Ukraine on Dec 31. In an extremely rare announcement following criticism by Russian military correspondents, the defense ministry in Moscow said that 63 Russian servicemen were killed “as a result of a strike by four missiles” in Makiivka.
It was the biggest loss of life reported by Moscow so far in a conflict that has dragged on since President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian troops to invade on Feb 24 last year. The Russian ministry said US-supplied Himars rocket systems had been used and the target was a temporary deployment point. Late on Monday, the General Staff of Ukraine’s armed forces said in a statement that its forces were behind the strikes on Makiivka.
“Up to 10 units of enemy military equipment of various types were destroyed and damaged,” the general staff said, adding that the human “losses” were still being established. Earlier in the day the strategic communications department of Ukraine’s armed forces said that nearly 400 Russian troops were killed in Makiivka. Russian war correspondents, who have gained influence in recent months, said hundreds could have been killed and accused Russia’s top commanders of not learning from past mistakes.
Former Russian separatist leader Igor Strelkov said the troops, largely consisting of mobilized Russians, were stationed in an unprotected building that was “almost completely” destroyed because ammunition stored on the premises detonated in the strike. He said “hundreds” have been killed and wounded. “Ten months into the war it is dangerous and criminal to consider the enemy a fool who does not see anything,” said Andrei Medvedev, deputy speaker of the Moscow city legislature.
The Samara governor, Dmitry Azarov, said that among the victims were residents of his region, adding that a hotline was set up for their relatives. On social media, some accused the Russian authorities of downplaying the death toll. “Dear God, who will believe in the figure of 63? The building has been completely destroyed,” one Russian, Nina Vernykh, wrote on the country’s largest social network, VKontakte.
An announcement on the social network urged Russians to collect clothes, medicines and equipment for those who survived the strike. “Everything that the mobilized had on them remains under the rubble,” said the announcement. Russian strikes across Ukraine on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day killed at least five people and wounded dozens. The Ukrainian capital again came under fire from Iranian-made drones on Monday, although Ukrainian forces claimed the majority were shot down by air defenses.
Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko reported an explosion in northeastern Kyiv and said emergency services were dispatched. “An injured 19-year-old man was hospitalized in the Desnyanskyi district of the capital,” he said. Following the strikes, the power company Ukrenergo said the situation with the electricity supply in Kyiv was now “more complicated”. “That is why emergency shutdowns are now in effect,” it said.
General Valery Zaluzhny, commander in chief of the Ukrainian armed forces, said that the army had so far liberated “40 percent of the territories occupied after February 24”. Russia’s New Year assaults – which targeted downtown areas of large cities – show a change in tactics, said an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. “Russia no longer has any military goals and is trying to kill as many civilians as possible and destroy more civilian facilities,” Mykhailo Podolyak tweeted. “A war to kill.”
After suffering a series of humiliating battlefield defeats, Moscow started to target electrical and other critical infrastructure in October. The strikes have caused sweeping blackouts and cut off water supplies and heating to civilians as the temperature in some regions dropped below freezing. The UN’s human rights chief has warned the campaign has inflicted “extreme hardship” on Ukrainians, and also decried probable war crimes by Russian forces.
Putin declared during his midnight address on New Year’s Eve that “moral, historical rightness is on our side”. Moscow said its New Year’s attacks had targeted the pro-Western country’s drone production. Russia has accused Ukraine of targeting its domestic military sites and infrastructure in recent weeks. In December, Moscow said it had shot down drones three separate times over or near Engels airfield, an airbase in southern Russia more than 600 km from Ukraine. Falling debris killed three people in one of those attacks.
On Monday, Russian officials said a Ukrainian drone had struck an energy facility in the southwestern Bryansk region neighboring Ukraine. Bryansk governor Alexander Bogomaz said that the strike had cut off electricity to a village. – AFP