Russians share gruesome details of deadly HIMARS attack

Ukrainian crews reload a HIMARS launcher

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Russian soldiers have offered shocking accounts of a HIMARS strike on their barracks, in which the Kremlin admits 89 died, and which Ukraine says killed as many as 400. The attack, on a school complex in the city of Makiivka in the Donetsk region housing hundreds of recently mobilised troops, occurred just after midnight on New Year’s Day.

The wife of one soldier told Russian investigative news website iStories some soldiers sleeping in the building’s basement had managed to escape, while others had run out of the building when the first of four missiles hit.

The woman, speaking on condition of anonymity, claimed to have been told by her husband: “We’re scraping brains off the boots.”

The final death toll is unclear although several other family members said the building had contained about 400 troops from two platoons – corresponding to the death toll claimed by the Ukrainian defence ministry. 

Unusually, the Kremlin, on Sunday confirmed 63 soldiers had died – but has since raised the figure to 89.

Semyon Pegov, one of Russia’s most prominent pro-war reporters, said in a video from the site in Donetsk that Russia’s military had under-reported the number.

He explained: “The number of those who were tragically killed would be much higher as the rescue teams are still going through the debris.”

Meanwhile, Russia has blamed the unauthorised use of cell phones by Russian soldiers for the attack, as it raised the death toll from the weekend attack to 89.

General Lieutenant Sergei Sevryukov said in a statement yesterday that phone signals allowed Kyiv’s forces to “determine the coordinates of the location of military personnel” and launch a strike.

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The Russian military is taking unspecified measures to “prevent similar tragic incidents in the future,” Sevryukov said and promised to punish officials responsible for the blunder.

The attack occurred one minute into the new year, according to Sevryukov.

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

An MoD tweet explained: “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.”

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In the same post, the ministry said that the building struck by Ukrainian missiles was little more than 12 kilometres (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.

It said: “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.”

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

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