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Participants lay flowers near the Eternal Flame memorial in Samara, Russia, January 3, 2023Reuters

The deaths of dozens of Russian soldiers in a new year missile strike on a building in occupied eastern Ukraine have prompted recriminations among critics of the Russian military.

Russia’s defence ministry has so far conceded that 63 people were killed in the Ukrainian attack on Makiivka at around midnight on New Year’s Eve.

One commander’s wife accused the West of trying to destroy Russia.

But elsewhere military leaders were accused of incompetence.

Ukraine says as many as 400 people were killed or wounded at Makiivka, and numbers into the hundreds have been given by Russian nationalists on social media.

However, there is no way of verifying how many soldiers were killed when US-made Himars missiles hit a vocational college packed with conscripts. Ammunition was also being stored close to the site, which was reduced to rubble.

Whatever the number, this is the highest number of deaths acknowledged by Russia since it invaded Ukraine on 24 February 2022.

Rallies were held in several cities in Russia’s south-western region of Samara, where governor Dmitry Azarov said many of the conscripts had lived.

Before and after pictures of Makiivka missile attack

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The biggest commemoration took place in the city of Samara itself, with at least 200 people taking part. Other official events were held in the industrial city of Tolyatti and in Syzran and Novokuybyshevsk.

No criticism was reported at the Samara rally, where the main remarks came from Yekaterina Kolotovkina, who said “neither we nor our husbands wanted war; the entire West united against us to eliminate us and our children”.

Hers was very much an official voice as her husband, Lt Gen Andrei Kolotovkin, commands the 2nd Guards Combined Arms Army based in Samara.

The commander’s wife’s remarks prompted anger on social media with independent journalist Dmitry Kolezev pointing out that her husband did not die in Makiivka.

“Could we have at least some evidence?” he asked, in response to her claim that the West intended to kill Samara’s children. Another blogger condemned her comments as a “pack of lies”.

The governor of Samara met defence ministry officials in Moscow on Tuesday and was expected to visit some of the wounded in hospital in the city of Rostov-on-Don the next day.

President Vladimir Putin has so far said nothing about the attack, but did sign a decree on Tuesday for families of National Guard soldiers killed in service to be paid 5m roubles (£57,000; $69,000).

Workers remove debris of a destroyed building, purported to be a vocational college used as temporary accommodation for Russian soldiers, 63 of whom were killed in a Ukrainian missile strike, as stated the previous day by Russia's Defence Ministry, in the course of Russia-Ukraine conflict in Makiivka (Makeyevka), Russian-controlled Ukraine, January 3, 2023.

Reuters

The soldiers sent to Makiivka were among an estimated 300,000 men signed up by Russia’s military as part of the president’s “partial mobilisation” announced last September in the face of a string of setbacks in Ukraine.

A number of voices have been highly critical of the military in the aftermath of the attack on Makiivka, a city adjacent to the main city of Donetsk and some distance from the front line.

Pavel Gubarev, a former leading official in Russia’s proxy authority in Donetsk, condemned the decision to place a large number of soldiers in one building as “criminal negligence”.

Such mistakes were being made early in the war, he complained, and even if the conscripts did not realise the risk, the authorities should have.

“If no-one is punished for this, then it’ll only get worse,” he warned.

One theory promoted by local security officials was that Ukrainian forces had been able to detect the use of Russian mobile phones by servicemen arriving at the vocational college on New Year’s Eve.

The deputy speaker of Moscow’s local parliament, Andrei Medvedev, said it was predictable that the soldiers would be blamed – instead of the commander who made the original decision to position so many soldiers in one place.

“History will certainly preserve the names of those who tried to keep silent about the trouble, and those who tried to blame the dead soldier for everything,” he wrote on Telegram.

Map showing control of areas of Ukraine

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Meanwhile, Ukraine’s armed forces said they killed or wounded 500 Russian troops in another attack on New Year’s Eve, on a village in the occupied southern region of Kherson.

There was no independent verification of the attack at Chulakivka, some 20km south of the River Dnipro.

Russian forces retreated across the Dnipro in November and Ukrainian officials have posted video of a flag being hoisted on an island between the eastern and western banks of the river.

Ukraine’s southern military command has warned that it is too early to talk of Velykyi Potomkin island being completely liberated.

Commander in chief Valerii Zaluzhny said on Monday that Ukraine had liberated 40% of the territories seized by Russia since last February, and 28% of all territories occupied by Russia since 2014.

Source: BBC

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