An apparent Ukrainian attack in Russian-occupied eastern Ukraine appears to have killed a large number of Russian soldiers next to ammunition depots, according to the Ukrainian military, pro-Russian military bloggers and former officials.
According to Ukrainian and pro-Russian accounts, the strike took place just after midnight on New Year’s Day Sunday at a vocational school for Russian conscripts in Makiivka in the Donetsk region.
The attack sparked fierce criticism of the Russian military from pro-Russian military bloggers who claimed the troops lacked protection, were reportedly stationed next to a large pile of ammunition, and were said to have blown up the school when Ukrainian HIMARS rockets hit.
The Ukrainian military claimed some 400 Russian soldiers were killed and 300 were wounded, but did not directly acknowledge a role. CNN could not independently confirm those numbers or the weapons used in the attack. Some pro-Russian military bloggers also estimated that the death toll could be in the hundreds.
The Russian Ministry of Defense acknowledged the attack on Monday and claimed that “63 Russian servicemen” were killed.
Video of the scene of the attack reportedly circulated widely on Telegram, including on Ukraine’s official military channel. It shows a pile of smoking rubble, with hardly any part of the building appearing to be standing.
“Greetings and congratulations” to the separatists and conscripts who were “brought to occupied Makiivka and packed into the vocational school building,” the Strategic Communications Directorate, commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, said in a cable. “Santa picked up about 400 dead bodies [Russian soldiers] in the bag. “
The Russian Defense Ministry said HIMARS rockets were used in the Ukrainian attack.
Daniil Bezsonov, a former official of the Russia-backed Donetsk government, said on Telegram that “it is clear that the high command still does not know the capabilities of this weapon.”
Igor Girkin, a Russian propagandist who blogs about the war on Telegram, claimed the building was almost completely destroyed by a secondary explosion at the ammunition depot.
Gilkin has long denounced Russian generals, whom he claims are directing wars far from the front lines. Gilkin was previously the defense minister of the Russia-backed self-styled Donetsk People’s Republic and was convicted of mass murder by a Dutch court for his role in the 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine.
Sergei Markov, another pro-Russian military blogger, said the Russian command was “very sloppy”.
Boris Rozhin, who also blogs about the war under the moniker Colonelcassad, said, “Incompetence and the inability to master war experience remains a serious problem.”