Russia has admitted its worst military casualties since the start of the war in Ukraine, in an attack on New Year’s Eve. Officials say 89 servicemen were killed in Makiivka in eastern Ukraine. Here’s what we know.
What happened in Makiivka?
On Monday, the Russian Defense Ministry made an extremely rare announcement, acknowledging that 63 Russian soldiers had been killed in a strike in Makiivka, a small town in Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine, controlled by pro-Russian separatists since 2014.
Russian and Ukrainian sources began reporting on the strike on Sunday, saying mobilized Russian personnel – not professional soldiers – were killed.
A senior Russian military official, Lt. Gen. Sergei Sevryukov, said Ukraine struck a temporary base in Makiivka at 12:01 a.m. local time on January 1, using a US-supplied Himars rocket system. United.
On Wednesday, the ministry said the death toll rose to 89 after more bodies were discovered.
It is the largest loss of life from a single attack that Moscow has acknowledged since its invasion began in February.
The incident was also the first communication of military deaths since September, when Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reported 5,937 Russian soldiers killed at that time.
What are Ukrainians saying?
The Ukrainian army’s strategic communications department said nearly 400 soldiers were killed and 300 injured in the strike at Makiivka, but this figure has not been independently verified.
The Ukrainian Armed Forces General Staff later said it had no definitive toll and announced that “up to 10 units of enemy military equipment” had been destroyed.
Why were there so many deaths?
Russian military leaders have blamed the high number of casualties on the use of cellphones by their soldiers.
Sevryukov said the military had determined that the reason for the high death toll “was the switching on and heavy use by personnel of cell phones within range of enemy weapons.” He did not provide evidence to support this claim.
The Ukrainian forces simply said that there was a “concentration” of soldiers in Makiivka.
Former separatist commander Igor Strelkov, who knows the situation on the ground, said the building was “almost completely” destroyed because ammunition stored on the premises exploded during the strike.
He said “hundreds” had been killed and injured.
It was also reported that the soldiers were quartered next to the ammunition depot which exploded. A popular Russian military blogger said it was “criminally naive” for the army to store ammunition next to sleeping quarters.
What was the reaction in Russia?
The news of the large number of casualties caused shock in Russia, as well as criticism of the Russian high command which has already been humiliated by a series of battlefield defeats.
“Despite several months of war, certain conclusions have still not been drawn,” writes blogger Boris Rojine, close to the separatists, criticizing the “incompetence” of Russian military leaders.
Alexander Kots, a war correspondent, wrote: “Why do we keep setting up [mobilised personnel] in hotels, hostels and vocational schools? »
Strelkov said another deadly strike could happen “at any moment”, adding that Russian generals were “unable to learn”.
The US-based Institute for the Study of War predicted that the Russian Defense Ministry would try to “blame its poor operational security” on local officials and mobilized personnel.
In a rare public commemoration, around 200 people gathered in the Russian city of Samara – where some of the victims were from – to commemorate the dead.
Mourners laid flowers in front of a city monument, an Orthodox priest said a prayer for the dead and soldiers fired a volley of weapons.
Agence France-Presse contributed to this report