Russia on Monday acknowledged the deaths of 63 of its soldiers in Ukraine, killed in a strike in separatist territory in the east of the country, the heaviest casualties in a single attack Moscow admitted since the invasion began.
• Also read: New airstrike on Kyiv after a deadly New Year
The army has only on very rare occasions given an assessment of its offensive or reported its casualties. According to the Russian Defense Ministry, 63 soldiers were killed in the explosion of “four rockets” fired from HIMARS systems, a weapon supplied to Ukrainian forces by the United States.
According to Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov, who did not give the date of the attack, these missiles hit “a temporary deployment center” of the Russian army in Makiivka, a city under Russian occupation located east of Russia’s separatist stronghold Donetsk.
The ministry also claimed to have shot down two of the six rockets fired at that target in Makiivka.
On Sunday, Russian and Ukrainian media began reporting on the strike, saying it took place on Saturday night, at the time of the transition to the New Year, and that there was a building where reservists in Russia were recently mobilized been affected.
Without claiming the strike, the Ukrainian army exacted a much heavier toll, which it says could amount to as many as 400 soldiers killed.
New Year strikes
The announcement of this strike comes after a New Year’s Eve marked by Russian bombing raids on Kyiv and other cities on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, killing five people and injuring about fifty.
At dawn on Monday, the strikes caused power outages in Kyiv.
“The Russians fired several waves of Iranian-made Shahed drones,” said Oleksiï Kouleba, head of the military administration of the Kyiv region, specifying that the attacks were aimed at “critical infrastructure”.
According to the mayor of the capital Vitali Klitschko, a 19-year-old man was injured by broken glass.
Ukrainian air defenses claimed to have shot down 41 drones and a Russian missile.
Operator DTEK announced that the attack had “damaged” the electricity supply infrastructure in Kyiv and should therefore impose emergency shutdowns.
The national company Ukrenergo confirmed the power outages, but at the same time assured that the situation is “completely under control”.
After a series of military setbacks on the ground and Ukrainian attacks on Russian territory and annexed Crimea, Moscow resorted to a tactic of bombing Ukraine’s infrastructure beginning in October, regularly leading to power and water cuts.
Russian authorities on Monday reported a Ukrainian drone attack on an electrical plant in the Bryansk region bordering Ukraine, claiming to have shot down a Ukrainian reconnaissance drone, this time heading for the major city of Voronezh.
“An installation that supplies electricity was damaged during this strike, one village is without electricity,” said Governor Alexandre Bogomaz.
Moscow had assured that its New Year’s strikes were targeting drone production facilities.
The Russians “lose. Drones, missiles and everything else don’t help them. Because we are together,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy reacted on Sunday evening.
“And they will not take a single year from Ukraine, they will not take our independence from us. We won’t give them anything. We respond to every Russian strike (…) in all our cities and towns,” he said.
Pro-Russian separatist authorities in eastern Ukraine reported Ukrainian shelling before and after the New Year, leaving at least one dead and 15 wounded.
The Russian army also said on Sunday that it is continuing its offensive in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, where most of the fighting is currently concentrated.
In this context, the staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces emphasized on Sunday evening that “the enemy (…) continued to attempt attacks in the Bakhmout sector”, the hottest point of the front, where the two camps are suffering heavy losses.
The soldiers involved in this battle are subjected to “incredible exhaustion” morally and physically. And in this endless war of attrition, some end up “like meat, just good enough to be sent to their deaths,” explained Mark Kouptchenenko, a young Ukrainian military chaplain who is on the ground with AFP every day on the front lines.
There are no or very few rotations, “they are constantly fighting”, under enormous pressure, under orders that they sometimes no longer understand, he said.