‘Dangerous and criminal’: Russia comes under internal criticism after 63 soldiers killed

Ukrainian forces stormed the Russian-occupied town of Makhivka, east of the separatist city of Donetsk, on New Year’s Day. In a rare announcement, Moscow acknowledged the death of 63 Russian soldiers.

LRussia is facing internal criticism after 63 soldiers died in Ukraine, killed in a Ukrainian strike, the biggest casualty in an attack acknowledged by Moscow since the beginning of the invasion.

Ukrainian civil servants confirmed the strike on Monday evening, New Year’s Day, in the Russian-occupied town of Makiivka, east of the separatist city of Donetsk.

In a rare announcement that followed criticism from Russian war correspondents, the Defense Ministry in Moscow said 63 Russian soldiers were killed when “four missiles” exploded in Makhivka. The Russian military has only on rare occasions given an assessment of its offensive or reported its losses.

According to the Defense Ministry, the missiles were fired by Himars systems, a weapon supplied to Ukrainian forces by the United States, and hit the Russian military’s “temporary deployment center” in Makhivka. “Up to 10 units of various types of enemy military equipment were destroyed and damaged,” the General Staff said.

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Earlier, the Strategic Communications Department of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said nearly 400 Russian soldiers were killed in Makhivka. Civil servants, who would not confirm the figure, announced that a balance sheet of human “losses” was being established.

The announcement of these heavy losses immediately provoked criticism from the Russian military command, in particular former separatist leader Igor Strelkov who accused him, well aware of the situation on the ground, of storing ammunition in this unguarded building.

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“Dangerous and Criminal”

Increasingly influential Russian war correspondents say hundreds were killed in the attack on the vocational school in Makhivka, accusing top military commanders of failing to learn from their past mistakes.

“Ten months after the start of the war, it is dangerous and criminal to regard the enemy as a blind fool,” said Andrei Medvedev, deputy speaker of the Moscow City Assembly. The governor of the Russian region of Samara, Dmitry Azarov, announced the opening of a telephone line for relatives of the slain soldiers.

On social media, some accused Russian authorities of downplaying the death toll. “God, who is going to believe the number 63? The building was completely destroyed,” wrote Nina Wernik, a Russian, on the prominent Russian social network VKontakte. On this social network, Russians were invited to collect clothes, medicine and supplies for survivors.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced that his military had shot down more than 80 drones since the beginning of 2023. “In the future, this number may increase,” he said.

The announcement of the strike comes after a New Year marked by Russian bombings in Kiev and other cities that left five dead and dozens injured. On Monday, Kiev came under renewed fire from Iranian-made drones, but Ukrainian forces said most had been shot down. Kyiv Mayor Vitaly Klitschko said the explosion occurred in the northeast of the city.

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On Monday evening, the governor of the Kharkiv region, Oleg Synekopov, said that Ukraine’s second-largest city and its region were once again the target of Russian missiles.

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Summit in Kiev

“Critical infrastructure has been targeted,” he wrote. Ukrainian Chief of Staff Valery Zalushnyi said the army had so far liberated “40% of the territories occupied after February 24”.

AFP journalists heard four loud explosions Monday evening in the Kramatorsk region, the de facto administrative capital of Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine. Regional authorities announced on Twitter that “two missiles” near Druzhkivka and Yakovlivka, Kramatorsk, also injured 2 people.

The Russian Defense Ministry said it had killed “more than 70 foreign mercenaries” using high-precision weapons to carry out attacks in Kramatorsk and Kharkiv regions.

After a series of military setbacks on the ground and Ukrainian offensives targeting Russian territory and the annexation of Crimea, Moscow has bombed infrastructure in Ukraine since October, causing ongoing power, heat and water cuts. According to a UN human rights official, they are causing “extreme hardship” to Ukrainians.

Ukraine and the European Union will hold a summit in Kiev on February 3 to discuss European financial and military support, President Volodymyr Zelensky’s office said in a statement on Monday.

During a telephone conversation with the President of the European Commission, Ursula van der Leyen, Mr. Zelensky discussed the details of this high-level meeting.

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