The Russian Ministry of Defense has updated the death toll from a recent Ukrainian strike in the eastern Donetsk region of the country to just under 90.
Initially, it said roughly 60 service members died but provided the new count of 89 on Wednesday. The ministry also said the Ukrainian military conducted the strike using a U.S.-provided High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, known as HIMARS. The Ukrainian military said at least 400 Russian soldiers were killed and another 300 wounded, and the gap between the two sides’ intelligence highlights that both countries have incentives to alter the unverified death counts.
Russia’s defense ministry said that soldiers’ illicit use of personal cellphones allowed the Ukrainians to track and uncover their location.
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“Circumstances of the incident are currently being investigated by a commission. But it is already obvious that the main reason, despite the restriction, was turning on and massive use of mobile phones by the personnel within the range area of enemy firepower. This factor allowed the enemy to locate the personnel for launching the missile strike,” wrote First Deputy Chief of the Main Military-Political Directorate of the Armed Forces of Russia Lt. Gen. Sergei Sevryukov on Telegram.
Some Russian military bloggers expressed skepticism of both the death toll and the claim that cellphone data provided the key for Ukraine to locate them.
Igor Girkin, a former commander of pro-Russian troops in eastern Ukraine, acknowledged the death toll was in the hundreds, and Semyon Pegov, who blogs under the alias “WarGonzo” and received an award from Russian President Vladimir Putin just weeks ago, said: “To the degree we can trust our own sources who work at the spot where this tragedy happened, they are still digging up the rubble at this moment. … And unfortunately, the number of victims of this tragedy — the HIMARS strike on the quarters of both newly mobilized and the serving military, including National Guard — could be bigger.”
Sevryukov noted that two of the six rockets had been intercepted in the attack, while the other four, equipped with high-explosive warheads, hit the building where Russian military personnel were. The British Defense Ministry noted that the extent of the damage could have occurred because the Russians had been storing ammunition nearby, leading to secondary explosions.
“Given the extent of the damage, there is a realistic possibility that ammunition was being stored near the troop accommodation, which detonated during the strike creating secondary explosions,” the ministry said in its latest update on the war. “The building was only [about 7.5 miles] from the Avdiivka sector of [the] front line, one of the most intensely contested areas of the conflict. The Russian military has a record of unsafe ammunition storage from well before the current war, but this incident highlights how unprofessional practices contribute to Russia’s high casualty rate.
Over the last couple of days, Russia has continued to use Iranian-made drones to pummel Ukraine’s energy infrastructure amid a frigid winter that has left millions of civilians without power, heat, or running water at times since Moscow adapted this strategy back in October. In the first days of 2023, Russia launched more than 80 Iranian drones at Ukrainian targets since the new year commenced, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Monday, as he warned that this could be the start of a “prolonged attack.”
Russia’s success in Ukraine mainly amounts to their use of the Iranian “kamikaze” drones while the military stalls on the battlefield in part due to rapidly dwindling stockpiles and no sufficient industrial base to replace them.