- There are no signs of victims at the scene of the impact – a witness
- Russia claims it carried out an attack on Ukraine in retaliation
- He claims to have killed over 600 Ukrainian soldiers
- A representative of the Ukrainian military dismissed the claim as false
KRAMATORSK, Ukraine, Jan 8 (Reuters) – A Russian missile attack on the Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk missed its targets and there were no obvious signs of casualties, a Reuters reporter said on Sunday, after Moscow said the strike killed 600 Ukrainian soldiers.
A Reuters team visited two student dormitories that Moscow said were temporary housing for Ukrainian personnel and that it had targeted in retaliation for the New Year attack that dozens of Russian soldiers killed and caused discontent in Russia.
But none of the sleeping quarters in the eastern city of Kramatorsk appeared to have been directly hit or seriously damaged. There were no obvious signs that soldiers had lived there, no signs of bodies or traces of blood.
Serhiy Cherevaty, 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 had responded with force to Ukraine’s recent strikes against Russian soldiers.
“This is an information operation of the Russian Ministry of Defense,” Cherevatii told Ukrainian television station Suspilne News.
Kyiv authorities did not immediately comment. Earlier, the mayor of Kramatorsk said there were no casualties.
As Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine nears its one-year mark, the Russian military is under domestic pressure for battlefield successes. Hawkish voices seek an escalation of the war effort after setbacks, including the loss of captured territory and high rates of death and injury.
Bad winter weather has hampered front-line fighting, although a sharp cold snap that freezes and hardens the ground could pave the way for both sides to launch an offensive with heavy equipment, said Serhiy Haidai, governor of Ukraine’s Luhansk region.
There are also growing concerns that Belarus – a close Kremlin ally – could be used as a springboard to attack Ukraine from the north following military activity, including planned joint air exercises in the country and a new redeployment of Russian troops there.
The Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement that the strike on the buildings in Kramatorsk was a revenge operation for deadly Ukrainian attack last week at a Russian barracks in Makeevka, in a part of the Donetsk region controlled by Moscow’s forces, in which at least 89 servicemen were killed.
It said Moscow used what it called reliable intelligence to attack Ukrainian troops. More than 700 Ukrainian soldiers were housed in one dormitory and more than 600 in another, it said.
“As a result of a massive missile attack on these points for the temporary deployment of units of the Ukrainian army, more than 600 Ukrainian servicemen were killed,” the Ministry of Defense said.
If true, it would be the biggest loss of Ukrainian troops since Russia invaded on February 24 last year. Neither side in the war, now in its eleventh month, usually discloses losses.
Ukraine is believed to have stopped deploying troops near each other in separate facilities after a deadly Russian missile strike on a base in western Ukraine in March that killed dozens.
The practice of housing all soldiers together has also come under the spotlight since the New Year’s strike in Ukraine, with Russian military commanders under fierce criticism in Russia for not spreading out their forces.
In Kramatorsk, residents of the residential area around the dormitories described the force of the explosion that shook their homes overnight, but said it was not unusual for the region, near the eastern front.
Residents said they heard explosions shortly after 11pm local time – midnight Moscow time – when the truce announced by Russia for the Eastern Orthodox Christmas was due to end.
The Russian statement identified two buildings, the dormitory at a site called College No. 47 and the dormitory associated with College No. 28, both in Kramatorsk.
Visual images from Reuters show some of the broken windows in College Dormitory No. 47. There was a large crater in the courtyard. The windows of a nearby college were broken.
The dormitory of College No. 28 was completely intact. A crater lay about 50 meters away from him closer to some garages. Some of the windows of the college were broken.
“It was very loud, it threw people out of their beds. Some people hurt their fingers from the blast wave,” said Polina, 74, a resident who lives opposite one of the dormitories.
“There was an explosion and then another explosion. The windows shook… Really, there’s nothing else to tell you. A normal day,” said Mihailo, a 41-year-old resident.
Oleksandr Honcharenko, the mayor of Kramatorsk, said the attack damaged two schools and eight residential buildings and garages, but that there were no casualties.
Pavlo Kirilenko, the Ukrainian governor of Donetsk, said earlier that Russia had launched seven missile strikes on Kramatorsk.
Russia has repeatedly shelled Kramatorsk, which is also in the Donetsk region, one of four regions that Moscow claims are officially part of Russia, something Ukraine and most countries around the world do not recognize.
Kramatorsk is a few miles northwest of Bakhmut, a small town that Russia has been trying to capture for more than five months in a brutal battle that has become the scene of some of the fiercest fighting in recent weeks.
Ukrainian officials earlier said at least two people were killed elsewhere in Russian bombing overnight after a unilateral Russian Orthodox Christmas ceasefire expired.
A 50-year-old man was killed in the northeastern region of Kharkiv, regional governor Oleg Sinegubov said on the Telegram messaging app.
Another person was killed overnight in an attack on Soledar, near Bakhmut, local authorities said.
Reuters could not immediately confirm those claims.
Reporting by Reuters Writing by Andrew Osborne and Tom Balmforth; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel
Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
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