An apparent Ukrainian strike in Russian-occupied eastern Ukraine appears to have killed a large number of Russian troops housed next to an ammunition cache, according to the Ukrainian military, pro-Russian military bloggers and former officials.
According to both Ukrainian and pro-Russian accounts, the strike took place just after midnight on Sunday, New Year’s Day, on a vocational school housing Russian conscripts in Makiivka, in the Donetsk region.
The attack has led to vocal criticism of the Russian military from pro-Russian military bloggers, who claimed that the troops lacked protection and were reportedly being quartered next to a large cache of ammunition, which is said to have exploded when Ukrainian HIMARS rockets hit the school.
The Ukrainian military claimed that around 400 Russian soldiers were killed and 300 were wounded, without directly acknowledging a role. CNN cannot independently confirm those numbers or the weapons used in the strike. Some pro-Russian military bloggers have also estimated that the number of dead and wounded could run in the hundreds.
The Russian Ministry of Defense on Monday acknowledged the attack and claimed that “63 Russian servicemen” died.
Video reportedly from the scene of the attack is circulating widely on Telegram, including on an official Ukrainian military channel. It shows a pile of smoking rubble, in which almost no part of the building appears to be standing.
“Greetings and congratulations” to the separatists and conscripts who “were brought to the occupied Makiivka and crammed into the building of vocational school,” the Strategic Communications Directorate of the Chief Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said on Telegram. “Santa packed around 400 corpses of [Russian soldiers] in bags.”
The Russian Ministry of Defense said that the Ukrainian attack used HIMARS rockets.
Daniil Bezsonov, a former official in the Russia-backed Donetsk administration, said on Telegram that “apparently, the high command is still unaware of the capabilities of this weapon.”
A Russian propagandist who blogs about the war effort on Telegram, Igor Girkin, claimed that the building was almost completely destroyed by the secondary detonation of ammunition stores.
Girkin has long decried Russian generals whom he claims direct the war effort far from the frontline. Girkin was previously minister of defense of the self-proclaimed, Russian-backed Donetsk People’s Republic, and was found guilty by a Dutch court of mass murder for his involvement in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine in 2014.
Sergey Markov, another pro-Russian military blogger, said there was “a great deal of sloppiness” on the part of the Russian command.
Boris Rozhin, who also blogs about the war effort under the nickname Colonelcassad, said that “incompetence and an inability to grasp the experience of war continue to be a serious problem.”