KRAMATORSK, Ukraine (AP) — Officials at a vocational school in a city in eastern Ukraine rejected Russian claims that hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers were killed in a missile strike there, saying Monday that a missile simply blew out windows and damaged classrooms.
Russia specifically named the vocational school in Kramatorsk as the target of an attack in almost 11 months of war. Russia’s defense ministry said its missiles hit two temporary bases housing 1,300 Ukrainian soldiers in the city, killing 600 of them late Saturday.
Associated Press reporters who visited the scene in sunny weather Monday saw a four-story concrete building with most of its windows blown out. Inside, locals were cleaning up debris, washing up broken glass and dumping broken furniture into a rocket crater below.
A separate six-story school building is mostly undamaged. There are no signs of a Ukrainian military presence, and no casualties.
Yana Pristupa, the school’s deputy headmaster, scoffed at Moscow’s claims of troop concentration strikes.
“No one saw a single spot of blood anywhere,” she told the AP. “Yesterday, everyone saw that no one was taking out corpses. It’s just people cleaning.”
She said that before the war started last February, the school had more than 300 students, most of them studying mechanical engineering, with most classes moving online when Russia invaded.
Students “are in shock now,” she said, adding, “What a great facility it was.”
Ukrainian officials on Sunday quickly denied Russian claims that they had lost large numbers of soldiers in the attack.
Despite the lack of any evidence, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said reports from the scene had not shaken the faith of senior defense officials.
“The Ministry of Defense is the main, legitimate and comprehensive source of information on the progress of the special military operation,” Peskov said Monday in a conference call with reporters, using the Kremlin’s term for the war.
Both sides regularly claim to have killed hundreds of the other’s soldiers in attacks. Claims can rarely be independently verified because of the fighting.
However, Moscow’s claims may have backfired domestically, as some Russian military bloggers criticized them.
The Institute for the Study of War, a think tank, said the bloggers “responded negatively to the Russian (MoD) claim, pointing out that the Russian MoD often makes fraudulent claims and criticizes the Russian military leadership for fabricating a story … rather than holds the Russian leadership responsible for the losses.”
A Russian Defense Ministry spokesman said the strikes on Kramatorsk were in response to Ukraine’s New Year’s Eve attack in Makeevka, which killed at least 89 Russian soldiers holed up in makeshift barracks, according to Moscow. Ukrainian authorities reported that hundreds were killed.
It was one of the deadliest attacks on Kremlin forces since the start of the war more than 10 months ago, and an embarrassing loss.
There have been such revenge strikes before. When Ukraine in early October hit a bridge linking the Russian-occupied Crimean peninsula with Russia, damaging a vital supply artery for the Kremlin’s faltering military effort in southern Ukraine and striking a key symbol of Russian power in the region, the Kremlin launched the first massive barrage against Energy facilities of Ukraine. It was billed as retaliation for the bridge attack and heralded a period of relentless bombing of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure.
Ukraine’s deputy defense minister said on Monday that Russian forces had launched a new offensive against the town of Soledar in the eastern Donetsk region. The capture of Soledar will allow Russia to step up its attacks on the strategically key city of Bakhmut, where intense fighting has destroyed around 60 percent of buildings.
In the Luhansk region, most of which is under Russian control, two residents of the village of Nevske were killed by Russian shelling on Monday, Luhansk Governor Serhii Haidai said.
Ukraine’s presidential office said on Monday that at least three civilians had been killed and 12 others wounded in shelling of nine Ukrainian regions in the country’s southeast over the past 24 hours.
In one attack on Monday, two people were killed and five others, including a 13-year-old girl, were wounded by a Russian missile strike that hit a village market in the northeastern region of Kharkiv, Ukrainian authorities said.
Kharkiv regional governor Oleg Sinegubov said the strike affected the village of Shevchenkove. Pictures on his Telegram channel show destroyed pavilions, some still burning, and rubble all around them.
According to Ukrainian authorities, there may be more people under the rubble. A rescue operation is underway to search for them.
Russia claims it is fighting NATO power, not just the Ukrainians.
Nikolai Patrushev, the secretary of Russia’s Security Council, echoed that argument in an interview published Monday, saying that “events in Ukraine are not a clash between Moscow and Kyiv, it is a military confrontation between NATO and, in particular, the US and Britain , with Russia.”
“The sooner the citizens of Ukraine understand that the West is fighting with their hands against Russia, the more lives will be saved,” Patrushev said in an interview with “Arguments and Facts.”
Meanwhile, two UK nationals working as volunteers in eastern Ukraine have gone missing, the Ukrainian National Police said on Monday.
Andrew Bagshaw and Christopher Perry left Kramatorsk on Friday for Soledar, where heavy fighting was reported and contact was lost with them, police said.
Bagshaw, a New Zealand resident, was in Ukraine to help deliver humanitarian aid, according to New Zealand media reports.
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