Forensic evidence is reportedly being examined to help identify the remains of Russian troops killed in a Ukrainian attack.
On New Year’s Eve, Kyiv fired four rockets with high-explosive warheads that destroyed a barracks in a vocational college in the city of Makiivka, in the Donetsk Oblast in eastern Ukraine.
Russia’s defense ministry said the strikes were from six rockets from a U.S.-made HIMARS (High Mobility Artillery Rocket System) multiple launch rocket system and that its air defenses had shot down two of the missiles.
“All necessary assistance and support will be provided to the relatives and friends of the fallen servicemen,” the statement added.
Russian officials rarely officially acknowledge losses in the war in Ukraine, but the statement on Telegram followed details of the incident being publicized by Russian military bloggers.
Christo Grozev, the lead Russia investigator with open-source investigation firm Bellingcat, tweeted that Russian military Telegram channels “report the human remains on the ground can only be identified via DNA tests.”
Newsweek has contacted the Russian defense ministry for comment.
In a follow up message, Grozev tweeted that even if this were a “significant undercounting” this would be the “largest single incident loss Russia has recognized.”
One estimate of the death toll from the sinking in April of Russia’s Black Sea flagship Moskva was up to 700, although the official death toll from that incident is less than 20.
The incident in Makiivka sparked anger in Russia, with most of the dead reportedly among those drafted in Vladimir Putin‘s “partial” mobilization drive. The governor of Russia’s Samara region, Dmitry Azarov, said that an unspecified number of residents of his region were among the dead.
Pro-Kremlin military bloggers said ammunition stored close to the facility had exploded in the attack, adding to the high number of casualties.
Igor Girkin, a former intelligence officer critical of Russian military commanders, said on Telegram that many people lay under the rubble and that the number of dead and wounded could amount to “many hundreds.”
He said that “our generals are untrainable” and that they were far from where the servicemen had been placed. Archangel Spetznaz Z, a Russian military blogger with more than 700,000 followers on Telegram, wrote: “who came up with the idea to place personnel in large numbers in one building?”
Daniil Bezsonov, an official with the Russian-appointed administration in Russian-occupied Donetsk, called for officers who ordered the placement of the troops to be punished.
Military expert Rob Lee tweeted that housing mobilized soldiers “next to ammunition storage is simply a leadership failure.”
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