The Russian Defense Ministry has increased the number of killed soldiers to 89 a recent Ukrainian rocket attack on a school of soldiers in Makiivkain the Russian-occupied Donetsk region, and blames the attack on unauthorized mobile phone use by its armed forces.
While Ukraine has claimed about 400 Russian soldiers died in the rocket attack in the first minutes of New Year’s Day on Sunday, Moscow had maintained until Wednesday that 63 Russian soldiers had been killed.
Russia’s initial acknowledgment of 63 dead was already highly unusual, as it marked the most significant loss of life in a single raid, confirmed by Moscow since the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
“The number of our dead comrades has risen to 89,” Lieutenant General Sergey Sevryukov said in a video statement released Wednesday morning by Russia’s Defense Ministry. The death toll was raised after more bodies were found under rubble in the town of Makiivka, he said.
The use of mobile phones by Russian soldiers was responsible for the attack, Sevryukov added.
“It is already clear that the main reason for what happened was the activation and massive use – in violation of the prohibition – of mobile phone personnel in a range area of enemy weapons,” he said.
“This factor enabled the enemy to track and determine the coordinates of the soldiers’ location for a missile attack.”
The devastating attack on a vocational school that was converted into military quarters has sparked anger among Russian nationalists and some lawmakers who again question the military strategy of Moscow’s commanders in Ukraine.
In a post on the Telegram messaging app, Igor Girkin, a former officer of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) who was instrumental in starting the first war in the Donbas region in 2014, said ammunition and military equipment were stockpiled in the buildings housing the Russian soldiers, adding to the force of the blast.
Girkin blamed the Russian “untrainable” generals for the losses.
The anger on social media has been directed at Russia’s military commanders rather than President Vladimir Putin.
The Institute for the Study of War said pro-Russian military bloggers dismissed the cellphone statement as a “lie” and accused the Russian command of being “criminally negligent” for failing to move its troops further from the front line to spread into smaller groups. .
“Such serious military failures will continue to complicate Putin’s efforts to appease Russia’s pro-war community and maintain the dominant narrative in the domestic information space,” the institute said.
NEW: A devastating Ukrainian #HIMARS attack on a Russian base #Makiivka, #Donetsk Oblast has been highly critical of Russian military leadership in the Russian information space on December 31. Last on #Ukraine of @criticalthreats: https://t.co/ou4m9DyAAq pic.twitter.com/8Q7wXA44cp
— ISW (@TheStudyofWar) January 3, 2023
The Russian Defense Ministry said four missiles from the US-made HIMARS launchers hit the building, adding that “the detonation of the warheads of the HIMARS missiles caused the ceilings of the building to collapse”.
“Currently, a committee is working to investigate the circumstances of what happened,” Sevryukov said, adding that measures were taken to ensure that such incidents do not happen again in the future and that those responsible for the lack of security would be punished.
The defense ministry’s revised death toll comes as mourners gathered in several towns of Samara’s Volga region — where some of the servicemen killed in the attack — came from to mourn the dead.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made no mention of the attack in a video address on Tuesday saying Russia would launch a massive offensive to improve its fortunes.
“We have no doubt that the current masters of Russia will throw everything they have left and everyone they can gather to try to turn the tide of the war and at least postpone their defeat,” Zelenskyy said in the video speech.
“We must disrupt this Russian scenario. We are preparing for this. The terrorists must lose. Any attempt at their new offensive must fail,” he continued.
In Russia, a little-known patriotic group supporting the widows of Russian soldiers is calling on Putin to order a massive mobilization of millions of Russian men to secure victory in Ukraine.
Putin plans to talk to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russia’s Interfax news agency — the latest in a series of talks the two men have held since the start of the war.
Turkey last year acted as a mediator to establish alongside the United Nations a deal that allows grain exports from Ukrainian ports but the chances of serious peace talks seem slim, especially as fighting continues to rage.