Nationalists and some Russian lawmakers have demanded punishment from military commanders they accuse of ignoring the dangers, as outrage grows over the deaths of dozens of Russian soldiers in one of the deadliest attacks of the war in Ukraine.
In a rare revelation, Russia’s Defense Ministry said 63 soldiers were killed on New Year’s Eve in an explosion that destroyed a temporary barracks at a training school in Makiivka, the twin city of the Russian-occupied regional capital of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine.
Russian critics said the soldiers were housed next to an ammunition depot, which the Russian Defense Ministry said was hit by four rockets fired from US-made HIMARS systems.
The New Year’s Eve attack on Makiivka came as Russia continued its recent wave of overnight drone strikes on Kiev and other Ukrainian cities.
Ukrainian officials said Russia attacked Ukrainian-controlled parts of the Donetsk region on Monday, hitting the village of Yakovlivka, the city of Kramatorsk and destroying an ice rink in the city of Druzhkivka.
Ukraine said the Russian death toll in Makiivka was in the hundreds, though pro-Russian regional authorities called it an exaggeration.
Russian military bloggers said the scale of the destruction was due to the storage of ammunition in the same building as the barracks, even though military commanders knew it was within range of Ukrainian rockets.
Igor Girkin, a former commander of pro-Russian troops in eastern Ukraine and now one of Russia’s most prominent nationalist military bloggers, said hundreds of people were killed or wounded in the attack. Ammunition and camouflaged military equipment were stored there, he said.
“What happened in Makiivka is horrible,” wrote Archangel Spetznaz Z, a Russian military blogger with more than 700,000 followers on the messaging app Telegram.
“Who came up with the idea of placing large numbers of personnel in a building where even a fool understands that, even if they hit with artillery, there will be many wounded or dead?” he wrote. Commanders “don’t give a damn,” he said.
Ukraine almost never publicly claims responsibility for attacks on Russian-controlled territory in Ukraine, and President Volodymyr Zelenskiy did not address Makiivka’s attack in his late-night speech Monday.
But the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces reported the Makiivka attack as “an attack on Russian military personnel and equipment.” He did not name casualties, but said 10 pieces of military equipment were destroyed.
The fury in Russia spread to its lawmakers.
Grigory Karasin, a member of the Russian Senate and former deputy foreign minister, not only demanded revenge against Ukraine and its NATO supporters, but also “a rigorous internal analysis.”
Sergei Mironov, a lawmaker and former president of Russia’s upper house, demanded criminal accountability for leaders who “allowed military personnel to gather in an unprotected building” and for “all higher authorities who failed to provide the appropriate level of security.”
Unverified footage posted online of the aftermath of the explosion at Russia’s Makiivka barracks showed a huge building reduced to smoking rubble.
Some of the dead came from Russia’s southwestern region of Samara, the region’s governor told Russian media, urging affected relatives to contact recruitment centres for information.
Andrey Medvedev, deputy speaker of the Moscow Duma and a pro-Kremlin journalist, said the authorities, whether civilian or military, must value the lives of Russians.
“Either a person has the utmost courage – and then he must be punished for stupid losses of personnel, such as treason – or the country is finished,” Medvedev wrote on the Telegram messaging app.
A Russian-backed military information center in the Donetsk region said there were 69 Ukrainian attacks in the region on Monday, including Makiivka.
BETTING ON BURNOUT
After suffering battlefield defeats in the second half of 2022, Russia resorted to large-scale airstrikes against Ukrainian cities.
Ukraine said on Monday it had shot down all 39 drones Russia launched in a third night of airstrikes on civilian targets in Kiev and other cities.
Ukrainian officials said their success shows that Russia’s tactic of launching missiles and drones to knock out Ukraine’s energy infrastructure is increasingly failing as Kiev beefs up its air defenses.
Russia denies striking civilian targets in what it calls a “special military operation” against its southern neighbor that began on Feb. 24.
After firing dozens of missiles on Dec. 31, Russia launched more than 80 Iranian-made Shahed drones on Jan. 1 and 2, all of which were shot down, according to Zelensky, who added that Russia plans a prolonged campaign of such strikes to “exhaust” Ukraine.
“I’ll probably bet on burnout. Exhaust our people, our air defenses, our energy,” Zelenskiy said in his late-night video address.
Ukraine, he said, has to “act and do everything possible so that the terrorists fail in their goal, as everyone else has failed.”