‘400 Russian recruits killed’ in Donetsk missile strike
Some 400 newly mobilised Russian army recruits were killed by a strike on a facility in occupied eastern Ukraine over new year, the Ukrainian armed forces have claimed.
“Santa packed close to 400 corpses of pigdogs in his sack,” the strategic communications branch of Ukraine’s armed forces wrote in a Telegram post last night, adding that the strike was conducted on New Year’s Eve. The missiles hit the base in Makiivka, a city of about 300,000 people, ten miles east of Donetsk.
The Russian ministry of defence acknowledged the attack, which it said was carried out by US-supplied Himars systems, but accused Ukraine of exaggerating the casualties. It claimed 63 had died so far, while a source in Russian-backed administration of the Donetsk region said “less than 100” had been killed.
The Russian troops were said to be billeted in a three-storey vocational college which was razed leaving only a pile of smouldering concrete rubble, according to footage. Ammunition had apparently been stored in the same location as the barracks. The Ukrainian army did not directly admit responsibility but rather communicated it through tongue-in-cheek references to previous covert strikes on Russian targets.
It blamed the “careless handling” of heating devices, neglecting security measures and “smoking”. Last August Oleksii Reznikov, the Ukrainian defence minister, said of explosions in Russia-occupied Crimea: “It looks as if they threw their cigarette butts away in several places at the same time, and here we see the result. It’s very dangerous to smoke in dangerous places.”
Locals reported hearing blasts that made their houses shake. The strikes took place shortly after midnight with the surface-to-air missile system and detonated the ammunition, according to Russian military bloggers, which is likely to have contributed to the death toll.
Russian media initially reported 15 deaths at the PTU No 19 in Makiivka. However, military bloggers noted that there may have been hundreds of casualities among mobilised troops from Saratov, 500 miles southeast of Moscow.
“The facility in which the Nth division, consisting primarily of mobilised citizens of the Russian Federation, was almost completely destroyed as a result of the detonation of BK [ammunition] that was stored in the same building,” the Russian paramilitary and former FSB officer Igor Girkin, or “Strelkov”, wrote on his Telegram channel.
“There are still no final figures, since many people are listed as missing . . . in any case, the number of dead and wounded runs to several hundreds,” he added. The Russian military telegram channel Archangel Spetznaz also mourned the “terrible” incident in Makiivka. Daniil Bezsonov, a Russia-installed official in the region also noted the “massive blow” to the school, saying that the number of casualties was unknown.
“The footage was published and confirmed by the Russians themselves. Hysteria has already begun,” a Ukrainian political adviser, Anton Herashenko, summarised on his own channel.
Meanwhile, in southern Russia, the authorities are searching for six escaped convicts who had been enlisted into the army. They allegedly fled a military company training centre in Luhansk region, eastern Ukraine run by “Putin’s Chef”, Evgeniy Prigozhin. Three are allegedly from Uzbekistan, while one is from Belarus, one from Russia and one from Kazakhstan.
Signs instructing residents to keep their eyes peeled were posted around the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, about 60 miles from the Ukrainian border. “Residents must pay special attention to people in uniform. Personal safety measures must be observed,” the leaflets said.
A man believed to be Prigozhin was seen on video trying to recruit prisoners to his private military company, Wagner, in September, telling the convicts that they could earn their freedom serving as mercenaries in Ukraine, but that anyone who signed up and then fled would be deemed a deserter and shot.
A previous Wagner recruit from a penal colony in Ufa, in the Russian republic of Bashkortostan, was detained last month after escaping to Rostov region and opening fire while attempting to evade police. News of the escaped convicts emerged shortly after video leaked of Prigozhin flippantly bidding farewell to the corpses of Wagner recruits in black bags, saying “Contract is finished... So long, guys, happy New Year!”
Russia increased its own attacks over the new year, launching a massive wave of missiles and drones against Ukraine on Saturday. Explosions rocked Kyiv, killing one and injuring 20 — including a Japanese journalist — and damaging a hotel. Overnight, Russia launched 45 Iran-made kamikaze drones, according to Ukrainian defence, all of which were shot down.
The new year is considered more important than Christmas in Russia, which the country celebrates on January 7 in accordance with the Julian calendar.