Russia’s military claimed Sunday it had carried out “retaliatory” missile strikes on Ukrainian barracks in Kramatorsk, Donetsk province, killing 600 Ukrainian troops. Ukraine called the claim “nonsense” and said no troops were killed. Western reporters and Russian pro-war military bloggers also disputed Moscow’s claim.
The strikes on Kramatorsk were among several missile attacks Russia launched right after the end of President Vladimir Putin’s purported unilateral 36-hour ceasefire from Friday through midnight Saturday, to celebrate the Eastern Orthodox Christmas. There was little sign of a ceasefire on the front lines, The Wall Street Journal and BBC News report.
Russia said it hit two temporary bases in Kramatorsk that housed 1,300 Ukrainian troops, calling the strike retaliation for Ukraine’s deadly New Year’s Day attack on Russian barracks in occupied Makiivka. Russia says 89 soldiers were killed in that strike, while Ukraine put the number in the hundreds.
Serhii Cherevatyi, a spokesman for Ukraine’s forces in the east, told CNN that Russia’s Kramatorsk claims are “nonsense,” called them “another piece of Russian propaganda” to BBC News, and told The Associated Press that “the armed forces of Ukraine weren’t affected.” Reporters on the ground backed Ukraine’s version.
“There were no obvious signs that soldiers had been living there and no sign of bodies or traces of blood,” Reuters reported from Kramatorsk. “A CNN team on the ground has seen no indication of any massive casualties in the area,” CNN said, “including in the vicinity of the city morgue.” Russia did appear to hit two vocational school dorms, BBC News reports, but “there’s no visual evidence that shows these two buildings were badly hit or that there has been mass deaths on the scale claimed by Russia.”
A reporter from Finland visited the schools and said they were empty, the Institute for the Study of War research organization reports, flatly calling Russia’s claims “false.” Russian military bloggers also “responded negatively” to the claim, pointing out that Russia’s defense ministry “frequently presents fraudulent claims and criticizing Russian military leadership for fabricating a story to ‘retaliate’ for the Makiivka strike instead of holding Russian leadership responsible for the losses accountable,” ISW reports.
“The world saw again these days that Russia lies even when it draws attention to the situation at the front with its own statements,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his nightly address.