Russia suffered one of its worst losses of the war at the exact moment Vladimir Putin was delivering his televised New Year address, it was revealed today.
Dozens and perhaps hundreds of Putin’s mobilised troops were killed in a Ukrainian HIMARS strike on a barracks in Russian-occupied Makiivka in the eastern Donbas region, minutes before midnight on December 31 and as Russian missiles and drones rained down on Kyiv.
There have been contradictory claims about the losses. Ukraine’s military command puts the number of Russian deaths at up to 400, with 300 wounded, while Moscow sources suggested lower figures in the dozens but do admit to a major loss of life.
It was initially impossible to verify the claims but it is clear from both sides that the Russian president has suffered a grievous blow, and is the latest in a growing list of embarrassments suffered by Moscow’s armies since the start of the invasion on February 24.
Rubble is strewn across the ground in Russian-occupied Makiivka, in the eastern Donbas region, in the aftermath of the strike. The missiles hit a vocational school which had been turned into a barracks for Russian forces
Russian president Vladimir Putin delivers his New Year address on December 31, which he recorded with dozens of troops
The incident was known about yesterday but it is the scale of the deaths that has been revealed by both sides today.
Russian commanders were among those killed, reports say.
Staunchly pro-Kremlin Ukrainian blogger Anatoly Shariy posted in dismay: ‘There are SEVERAL HUNDRED killed in Makiivka.’
He added sarcastically: ‘Someone smart put them all together in one place.’
Russian pro-war sources said two HIMARS missile strikes hit the barracks in Makiivka, while the Moscow-installed administration of the Donetsk region in Ukraine said on Sunday that at least 25 rockets were fired at the region overnight on New Year’s Eve.
The Russian defence ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In its daily report yesterday, it claimed that it had destroyed seven HIMARS rockets, including in the area of Makiivka.
A dramatic video posted online from the night of the attack shows a family watching Putin’s address on a smartphone as they prepare to eat a traditional New Year meal, minutes before midnight.
A woman is on the balcony of her residential block and returns screaming in terror as an incoming attack targets a building nearby, which was later revealed to be a vocational school that was turned into a barracks for Russian forces.
From elsewhere, a Ukrainian video showed a soldier in a festive Santa hat as a HIMARS missile is launched around the time of the Makiivka strike. The HIMARS rocket system behind him has been decorated with Christmas lights.
A dramatic video posted online from the night of the attack shows a family watching Putin’s address on a smartphone as they prepare to eat a traditional New Year meal, minutes before midnight. A woman on the balcony ran back inside as the strike hit its targets
Another video shows a Ukrainian soldier in a festive Santa hat as a missile is launched around the time of the Makiivka strike. The HIMARS rocket system behind him has been decorated with Christmas lights
‘According to a number of sources, we can talk about 50 to 70 people [dead] at the moment. The building is completely destroyed,’ reported the Grey Zone outlet which is linked to Putin ally Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner private army.
‘Of course, we are not talking about 500 to 600 dead, this is the enemy’s propaganda. But still there were more than 100 people in the building, approximately 120 to 150. Even our most positive channels evasively refer to losses as “significant, large and heavy”.’
Another Russian account said: ‘There were dead and wounded, the exact number is still unknown. The building itself was badly damaged.’
The dead were reported as mobilised Russian troops from the Saratov region who had been stationed in Makiivka.
More footage appears to show the body of a woman near a roadside in Makiivka.
Videos highlight the total destruction of the school premises where the Russian mobilised forces were reportedly barracked.
The aftermath of the HIMARS missile strike is seen in Russian-occupied Makiivka
HIMARS – which stands for High Mobility Artillery Rocket System – is a US-made launcher which can fire six guided missiles.
The Romanov Light channel said ammunition was also detonated at the barracks – ‘hence such destruction’.
Military blogger Boris Rozhin told of ‘a substantial number of dead and wounded’.
Earlier reports had said there were four dead and around 50 wounded.
Ukrainian source Obozrevatel said that HIMARS had destroyed ‘hundreds of invaders’. ‘The number of dead is still unknown. According to various estimates, there were from 150 to 700 occupiers at the base during the attack, most of whom were allegedly mobilised from Saratov.
‘According to the Strategic Committee of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, 400 Russian soldiers were killed, and about 300 were wounded.’
Daniil Bezsonov, a senior Russian-backed official in the Moscow-controlled parts of the Donetsk region, said that there was a strike on a vocational school, which according to preliminary information served as military personnel quarters.
The attack, Bezsonov said, happened two minutes after midnight on New Year’s Day.
‘A massive blow was dealt to the vocational school from American MLRS HIMARS. There were dead and wounded, the exact number is still unknown,’ Bezsonov said on the Telegram messaging app. ‘The building itself was badly damaged.’
A Himars rocket system, such as those used by Ukraine, is shown launching a missile
Obozrevatel claimed that senior commanders were among the dead. The Russians were searching for ‘traitors’ who had revealed the location of the barracks.
Pro-war Russian sources angrily criticised commanders for gathering so many soldiers in one place, making them a clear target for attack.
The strike was just 115 miles from where Putin supposedly pre-recorded his New Year’s message with dozens of troops in Russia’s Rostov region.
Putin sipped Russian Champagnski with the troops to toast the arrival of 2023 after he told Russians in his annual televised address that ‘moral and historical’ justice was on their side.
The West was ‘cynically using Ukraine and its people to weaken and divide Russia’, he claimed.
Another video shows mobilised Russian men leaving Saratov in November.
These new recruits are reported to have been among those in the stricken barracks.
Christmas music and decorations on the Ukrainian missile launch video are because Russians mark the festive season as midnight strikes at New Year, rather than on 25 December.