War in Ukraine: Russia blames deadly missile attack on soldiers’ use of mobile phones

Unauthorised use of mobile phones by Russian soldiers led to a deadly Ukrainian rocket attack on the facility where they were stationed, the Russian military said.

The admission came as the death toll from the weekend attack was raised to 89.

General Lieutenant Sergei Sevryukov said phone signals allowed Kyiv’s forces to “determine the co-ordinates of the location of military personnel” and launch a strike in the eastern Donetsk region.

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He said measures were being taken to “prevent similar tragic incidents in the future” and promised to punish officials responsible for the failure.

Russian Gen. Lt. Sergei Sevryukov speaks. Picture: Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP

The attack – one of the deadliest on the Kremlin’s forces since the start of the war more than ten months ago – occurred one minute into the new year, according to Mr Sevryukov.

Ukrainian forces fired six rockets from a US-provided Himars multiple launch system at a building “in the area of Makiivka” where the soldiers were stationed.

Two rockets were downed, but four hit the building and detonated, prompting the collapse of the structure.

The Russian Defence Ministry initially said the strike killed 63 troops, but as emergency crews sifted through the rubble of the building, the death toll has grown to 89, Mr Sevryukov said. The regiment’s deputy commander was among the dead.

Other, unconfirmed reports put the death toll much higher.

The Strategic Communications Directorate of Ukraine’s armed forces claimed on Sunday that around 400 mobilsed Russian soldiers were killed in a vocational school building in Makiivka and about 300 more were wounded.

The Russian statement said the strike occurred “in the area of Makiivka” and did not mention the vocational school.

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The attack marked yet another setback for the Kremlin’s war effort in Ukraine, which has been undermined by a successful Ukrainian counteroffensive. It stirred renewed criticism inside Russia of the way the war is being conducted.

Unconfirmed reports in Russian-language media said the victims were mobilised reservists from the region.

UK intelligence officials said Moscow’s “unprofessional” military practices were probably partly to blame for the high casualty rate in Makiivka.

“Given the extent of the damage, there is a realistic possibility that ammunition was being stored near to troop accommodation, which detonated during the strike, creating secondary explosions,” the Ministry of Defence said in a Twitter post.

The Ministry of Defence said the building struck by Ukrainian missiles was little more than 7.5 miles from the front line near Avdiivka, within “one of the most contested areas of the conflict”.

Both Makiivka and Avdiivka, a key target of Russia’s grinding offensive in the Donetsk region, lie on the outskirts of its namesake capital.

“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,” the update said.

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Meanwhile, the Kremlin-appointed leader of the Donetsk region, one of four that Moscow illegally annexed in September, praised the “courage and true heroism” of the dead Russian soldiers.

Denis Pushilin said in a Telegram post that some of those killed tried to pull their comrades from the burning building.

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