- There is no evidence of injuries at the strike site – witness
- Russia says it carried out a revenge attack on Ukraine
- It claims to have killed more than 600 Ukrainian soldiers
- A Ukrainian military official dismissed the claim as untrue
KRAMATORSK, Ukraine (Reuters) – A Russian missile attack on the Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk missed its targets and there were no clear signs of casualties after Moscow claimed the strike killed 600 Ukrainian servicemen, a Reuters reporter said on Sunday.
A Reuters team visited two university dormitories that Moscow said were temporarily housing Ukrainian employees and targeted them in retaliation for the New Year’s Day attack that killed dozens of Russian soldiers and caused outrage in Russia.
But none of the dormitories in the eastern city of Kramatorsk appear to have been directly damaged or severely damaged. There were no visible signs that the soldiers were living there and there were no signs of dead bodies or traces of blood.
Serhiy Chervaty, Ukraine’s military spokesman for the Eastern Region, described the claim of mass casualties as an attempt by the Russian Defense Ministry to show that it responded forcefully to recent Ukrainian strikes on Russian soldiers.
“This is an information operation of the Russian Ministry of Defense,” Sharivati told Ukrainian broadcaster Sosbylin News.
The authorities in Kyiv did not immediately comment. The mayor of Kramatorsk said earlier that there were no injuries.
With Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine close to a year away, the Russian military is under internal pressure to achieve successes on the battlefield. Hawks sought to escalate the war effort after setbacks including loss of captured territory and high death and injury rates.
Fighting on the front lines has been hampered by bad winter weather, Serhiy Heidi, governor of Ukraine’s Luhansk region, though a cold snap that is freezing and hardening on the ground could pave the way for both sides to launch attacks with heavy equipment.
There have also been growing fears that Belarus – a close ally of the Kremlin – could be used as a springboard to attack Ukraine from the north after military activity including planned joint air exercises in the country and a new Russian troop move there.
In a statement, Russia’s defense ministry said the strike on the buildings in Kramatorsk was a retaliation for last week’s deadly Ukrainian attack on a Russian barracks in Makeyevka, in a part of the Donetsk region controlled by Russian forces, in which at least 89 people were involved. of the military were killed.
It said Moscow used what it described as reliable intelligence to target Ukrainian forces. It added that more than 700 Ukrainian soldiers were housed in one hostel and more than 600 in another.
The Ministry of Defense said: “As a result of a massive missile strike on temporary deployment points of units of the Ukrainian army, more than 600 Ukrainian servicemen were destroyed.”
If true, this would be the largest single loss for Ukrainian forces since the Russian invasion on February 24 last year. Neither side in the war, which has entered its eleventh month, usually discloses casualties.
Ukraine is believed to have stopped housing troops close together in single facilities after a deadly Russian missile attack on a base in western Ukraine in March killed dozens.
The practice of housing soldiers together after the New Year’s strike also emerged in Ukraine, where Russian military leaders came under heavy criticism within Russia for not dispersing their forces.
And in Kramatorsk, residents of the populated area around the dormitories described the force of the explosion that shook their homes at night but said it was not out of the ordinary for the area near the eastern front.
Residents said they heard explosions shortly after 11 p.m. local time — midnight Moscow time — when Russia’s Eastern Orthodox Christmas ceasefire was due to expire.
The Russian statement mentioned two buildings, the dormitory for a site called College No. 47 and a dormitory belonging to College No. 28, both in Kramatorsk.
Reuters pictures showed some windows broken in the college’s dormitory No. 47. There was a big hole in the yard. The windows of the neighboring college were shattered.
Ward No. 28 was completely intact. There was a crater about 50 meters away from it near some garages. Some of the college’s windows were smashed.
“The sound was very loud and it threw people out of their beds. Some people injured their fingers because of the blast wave,” said Paulina, 74, who lives across from one of the dormitories.
“There was an explosion, and then another. The windows shook… Really, there’s nothing else to tell you. Just an ordinary day,” said Mikhaylo, 41, a resident.
Oleksandr Honcharenko, the mayor of Kramatorsk, said the attack destroyed two educational facilities, eight apartment buildings and garages, but there were no casualties.
Pavlo Kirilenko, Ukraine’s governor of Donetsk, had earlier said that Russia launched seven missile strikes on Kramatorsk.
Kramatorsk, also located in the Donetsk region, has been repeatedly bombed by Russia and is one of four regions that Moscow claims have officially merged into Russia, something Ukraine and most of the world do not recognize.
A few miles northwest of Bakhmut, Kramatorsk is a small city that Russia has been trying to capture for more than five months in a pitched battle that has become the scene of some of the fiercest fighting in recent weeks.
Ukrainian officials said earlier that at least two people were killed elsewhere in Russian shelling on Thursday night after the end of a Christmas ceasefire by the Russian Orthodox.
A 50-year-old man was killed in the northeastern Kharkiv region, Ole Sinhopov said on the messaging app Telegram.
Local officials said another person was killed in an overnight attack on Solidar near Bakhmut.
Reuters could not immediately verify these allegations.
(Reporting by Reuters) By Andrew Osborne and Tom Palmforth. Edited by Frank Jack Daniel
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