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Fury in Russia as dozens of troops killed in one of Ukraine war’s deadliest attacks By Reuters

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©Reuters. Ukrainian soldiers use searchlights when they search for drones in a sky over the city during a Russian drone strike, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine, January 1, 2023. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich 2/2

By Pavel Polityuk

Kyiv (Reuters) – Russia on Monday acknowledged scores of its troops were killed in one of the deadliest attacks of the Ukraine war and called on Russian nationalist bloggers to fine commanders for housing soldiers next to an ammunition depot.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said 63 soldiers died in the fiery blast that destroyed makeshift barracks at a former vocational school in Makiivka, a sister city to Russian-held regional capital Donetsk in eastern Ukraine.

It said the shelter was hit by four rockets fired from US-made HIMARS launchers and claimed two rockets were shot down. Kyiv said the Russian death toll was in the hundreds, although pro-Russian officials called it an exaggeration.

Russian military bloggers said the huge destruction was the result of storing ammunition in the same building as a barracks, even though commanders knew it was within range of Ukrainian missiles.

Separately, Ukraine said on Monday it shot down all 39 drones fired by Russia for the third straight night of airstrikes on civilian targets in Kyiv and other cities.

Ukrainian officials said their success proves that Russia’s tactic in recent months of raining down airstrikes to take out Ukraine’s energy infrastructure is increasingly a failure as Kyiv strengthens its air defenses.

“EVERY MISTAKE HAS A NAME”

Unconfirmed footage leaked online of the aftermath of the strike at Russia’s Makiivka barracks showed a huge building reduced to smoking rubble.

Igor Girkin, a former commander of pro-Russian troops in eastern Ukraine who is now one of the most high-profile Russian nationalist military bloggers, said hundreds were killed or wounded in the blast. Ammunition was stored at the site and military equipment was not camouflaged there, he said.

Another nationalist blogger, Rybar, said around 70 soldiers were dead and more than 100 injured.

“What happened in Makiivka is terrible,” wrote Archangel Spetznaz Z, another Russian military blogger with more than 700,000 followers on Telegram.

“Who came up with the idea of ​​putting personnel in large numbers in a building where even a fool understands that there will be many wounded or dead even if they hit artillery?” he wrote. Commanders “couldn’t care less” about munitions stored in disarray on the battlefield, he said.

The open anger extended to lawmakers.

Grigory Karasin, a member of the Russian Senate and former deputy foreign minister, not only called for revenge on Ukraine and its NATO supporters, but also for “a sophisticated internal analysis”.

Sergei Mironov, a deputy and former chairman of the Senate, Russia’s upper house, called for criminal liability for the officials who “allowed the concentration of military personnel in an unprotected building” and “any higher authorities who failed to provide the appropriate level.” “. Security”.

“Obviously, neither the intelligence service nor counterintelligence or air defense were working properly,” he said in a post on Telegram.

Russia’s admission of numerous deaths in one incident was almost without precedent. Moscow rarely releases figures on its losses, and when it does, the numbers are usually low — there was just one fatality among a crew of hundreds when Ukraine sank its flagship cruiser Moskva in April.

Russia has seen the New Year with nightly attacks on Ukrainian cities, including Kyiv, hundreds of kilometers from the front lines. This marks a change in tactics after months when Moscow usually held such strikes about a week apart.

After firing dozens of missiles on December 31, Russia launched dozens of Iranian-made Shahed drones on January 1-2. But Kyiv said Monday it shot down all 39 drones in the latest wave, including 22 over the capital.

Kyiv said the new tactic was a sign of Russia’s desperation as Ukraine’s ability to defend its airspace improved.

“Now they are looking for ways and trying to hit us somehow, but their terror tactics will not work. Our sky will turn into a shield,” Presidential Chief of Staff Andriy Yermak said on Telegram.

In his late night speech, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russia’s efforts would prove futile. “Drones, missiles, anything else will not help them,” he said of the Russians. “Because we are united. They are united only by fear.”

Ukraine’s air defense systems worked all night to repel incoming drones and warn communities of the approaching danger.

Russia has turned to mass airstrikes on Ukrainian cities since suffering battlefield defeats in the second half of 2022.

His attacks, which took away heat and electricity from millions of people over the winter, are said to be aimed at reducing Kiev’s combat capability. Ukraine says the attacks have no military purpose and are intended to injure civilians, a war crime.

Russia has leveled Ukrainian cities, killed thousands of civilians and annexed parts of Ukraine since Putin ordered his invasion last February, calling Ukraine an artificial state whose pro-Western leanings threaten Russia’s security.

Ukraine has fought back with Western military support, driving Russian forces out of more than half of the conquered territory. In recent weeks, the front lines have been largely static, with thousands of soldiers dying in intense warfare.