Russia has revised its death toll after Ukraine carried out a deadly missile strike in the occupied region of Donetsk.
The attack took place on New Year’s Day, hitting a building in the city of Makiivka where a Russian military base was stationed. Moscow initially declared that 63 soldiers were killed in the attack on New Year’s Day, but has since changed the toll to 89.
Officials in Ukraine meanwhile contested the figure, saying 400 soldiers died. Neither claim has been officially verified, but it is worth noting that it is extremely rare for Moscow to confirm any battlefield casualties.
In fact, Monday’s (2 January) admission from Russia’s defence ministry is the highest number of deaths in a single incident acknowledged by the country since its invasion of Ukraine began 10 months ago.
So what exactly happened in the attack of Donetsk? Here’s what’s been said by Russia and Ukraine - and what else we know so far.
What happened in Ukraine’s strike on Donetsk?
Ukraine carried out a missile strike on a Russian military base in its city Donetsk. Donetsk is in Ukraine, but is currently occupied by Russia.
The strike hit a building housing Russian troops. Many of the victims are thought to be recently mobilised troops - that is, soldiers who were conscripted rather than those who chose to fight in the war.
Russia’s defence ministry said Ukraine fired six rockets using the US’s Himars rocket system. This comes just weeks after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky met US President Joe Biden in Washington DC, where Biden announced he is supplying the war-torn country with nearly £1.68billion in additional security aid. Russia added that it shot two of the rockets down during the attack.
The day prior, on New Year’s Eve, Russia attacked Ukraine with multiple blasts, killing one person and hospitalising 14 others. Ukrainian officials claimed Russia was deliberately targeting civilians, seeking to create a climate of fear, with First Lady Olena Zelenska commenting: “Ruining lives of others is a disgusting habit of our neighbours.”
How many were killed in Donetsk?
The number of victims is unclear at present, with both sides offering different figures. Ukraine has claimed 400 Russian soldiers were killed with a further 300 wounded, but its military regularly claims to have killed large numbers of troops in its attacks - meaning caution is needed.
Meanwhile, Russia has acknowledged the attack, but said the numbers are lower than those offered by Ukraine. Initially, the defence ministry said 63 had died, but increased this to 89 a day later.
Another contradiction came from Igor Girkin, a pro-Russian commentator, who said hundreds had been killed and injured in the attack. But, he added, the exact figure is unknown because of the large number of troops still missing.
Girkin, who despite his pro-Russia stance regularly criticises the country’s military leadership and tactics, added that the building struck was “almost completely destroyed”, with the damage made worse because ammunition was stored in the same building as the soldiers. He wrote on Russian social media app Telegram: “Almost all of the military equipment was also destroyed, which stood right next to the building without any disguise whatsoever.”
The 51-year-old blogger, who is a former colonel in Russia’s Federal Security Service, was recently was recently found guilty of murder for his part in the shooting down of flight MH17 in 2014.
What else has been said by figures in Russia and Ukraine?
In a statement, Ukraine’s military said that “up to 10 units of enemy military equipment of various types were destroyed and damaged in the area of concentration in the settlement of Makiivka.” It added that the “losses of personnel of the occupiers are being specified.”
Adhering to its long-held strategy of not revealing specific details about its attacks, Ukraine has not confirmed whether the strikes were carried out using missiles from the US.
Daniil Bezsonov meanwhile, a senior Moscow official, said Ukraine’s missile had dealt a “massive blow” when it struck the building, previously a school, housing Russian troops. He wrote on Telegram: “A massive blow was dealt to the vocational school from American MLRS Himars. There were dead and wounded; the exact number is still unknown.”
Russian commentators and bloggers have also fed into the conversation, with Archangel Spetznaz Z, who has more than 700,000 on Telegram, writing: “What happened in Makiivka is horrible.” He also criticised the Russian military following the attack, commenting: “Who came up with the idea to place personnel in large numbers in one building, where even a fool understands that even if they hit with artillery, there will be many wounded or dead?”
Similarly, Andrey Medvedev, an ultra-conservative journalist who is deputy chairman of Moscow’s city parliament, added: “Housing personnel in buildings instead of housing them in shelters directly aids the enemy. From the situation in Makiivka it is necessary to draw the toughest conclusions.”
Did Russia retaliate?
Just hours after the strike in Makiivka, Kyiv came under fire when a drone and missile attack targeted critical infrastructure. The capital’s regional governor, Oleksiy Kuleba, said that one man had been injured by debris.
Kuleba also said that the weapons were Shahed drones made by Iran. He added that Russia was “targeting critical infrastructure facilities”, and advised citizens that the “the main thing now is to stay calm and stay in shelters until the alarm is off.”
Mayor of Kyiv, Vitaly Klitschko, voiced concern that energy facilities had been damaged in the attack, further damaging the city’s power and heating supplies. Russia has been destroying Ukraine’s energy infrastructure for several months now, plunging millions of citizens into the freezing cold and dark during an already-challenging winter.