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KYIV — Ukraine is seizing upon its deadliest strike against Russian soldiers so far in the war to warn the enemy they are not safe in bases behind the front lines, while Russians are turning on their commanders over the scale of the rocket attack against a building in Makiivka in eastern Ukraine.
On January 1, Ukraine struck a base in Makiivka in the Donetsk region. Given the devastating extent of the blast, Britain’s ministry of defense speculated ammunition was stored near troop accommodation in the vocational school building, some 12.5 kilometers behind the front line.
Late on the night of January 1, Ukraine’s armed forces Strategic Communications Center claimed the strike killed 400 and wounded 300 newly mobilized Russian soldiers. The next day, the General Staff of the Armed Forces confirmed the strike on the Makiivka base. “Up to 10 units of enemy military equipment of various types were destroyed and damaged in the concentration area in Makiivka. The exact number of military personnel losses is still being verified,” General Staff spokesman Oleksandr Shtupun said in a video statement.
On Wednesday, the Russian defense ministry put the number of Russian dead at 89. This is the first time the Russian ministry has officially acknowledged the death of so many soldiers in one attack since the start of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24 .
The Ukrainian armed forces have not made any further official comments.
Instead, Ukraine’s Strategic Communications Center of the Armed Forces has been intimidating Russians, with messages about other military bases of Russian soldiers supposedly targeted in occupied parts of the region of Zaporizhzhia.
The armed forces’ Strategic Communications Center has reposted a video from an anonymous channel called Capitan Himars. In a video, a soldier stands not far from a HIMARS rocket battery as it fires and proposes that Russian soldiers who want to go back home alive should send him coordinates of Russian military vehicles, arms warehouses and command posts. “If you give that to me, I won’t target soldiers’ bases, I will destroy only artillery, weapons and fuel. Then nobody will send you on the offensive. You will save your own life and the lives of your friends,” the soldier says, blanketed in dust from the rocket fire.
The scale of the attack also sparked recriminations from the Russian side.
Russia’s defense ministry initially reported some 63 deaths as a result of a HIMARS strike over the local professional vocational school PTU-19, where Russians were based. However, Russian and pro-Russian military bloggers and commanders have reported hundreds of dead and wounded and started apportioning blame. While some put responsibility on the commanders for stationing soldiers in large groups, others said the blame lay with locals who acted as spotters, giving coordinates to Ukrainian forces.
Mobile phones to blame?
Russia’s defense ministry blamed the dead soldiers themselves.
“A special commission is still investigating the incident. But it is already obvious that the main reason for what happened was the massive use of mobile phones by the personnel despite the ban,” first deputy chief of the Main Military-Political Directorate of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, Sergei Sevriukov, said in a statement.
“This factor allowed the enemy to locate and determine the coordinates of the location of military personnel for launching a missile strike.”
Ukrainian forces refused to confirm or deny that statement. “As of now, we don’t give any further comments on that,” said Andriy Yusov of the Military Intelligence Directorate of the Defense Ministry of Ukraine.
On January 3, mourning ceremonies were conducted in three major cities of Samara Oblast — Tolyatti, Syzran and Samara, where many of the troops came from. Samara Governor Dmitrii Azarov has asked the relatives of killed invading forces, who keep demanding information about the soldiers from the authorities, to wait until the end of the investigation. This would allow identification of the dead and a full count of the wounded, who according to Azarov, were transported to the hospitals of Rostov region.
Pro-Kremlin journalist Anastasia Kashevarova reported that some 200 soldiers survived the attack.
The Ukrainian open-source intelligence community InformNapalm has identified one of the survivors as Nikita Bakulin, a 28-year-old conscript from Samara, and posted a video of him allegedly sending a video message to his mother on January 3 where he blames two colonels for the tragedy. The video was earlier posted by Russian military Telegram channels.
Saratov regional Governor Roman Busargin has denied any conscripts from Saratov region were killed in the attack and expressed condolences to the neighboring region.
Citing wives of the conscripts, Russian media website Stories has reported Russian commanders were planning to send the mobilized in Makiivka on the offensive but changed their mind due to a lack of resources and weapons.
“In the conditions of increasing our resources near the front line, not only Makiivka vocational school was under threat. We know that there are still sites with an increased concentration of personnel known to the enemy — we are waiting for the reaction of the military leadership,” Aleksandr Khodakovsky, one of the top Russian-backed military commanders in Donetsk said in a statement. “If no measures will be taken by our military leadership before the next massive enemy strike like this one, this inaction should be taken as a betrayal,” Khodakovsky added.