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Russia loses 63 troops in Ukraine raid

Anger grows over highest casualty count since start of conflict last year

Russia's Defense Ministry confirmed on Monday that 63 soldiers had been killed on New Year's Eve in a fiery blast that destroyed a temporary barracks in a vocational college in Makiivka, twin city of the regional capital Donetsk.

Russian nationalists and some lawmakers have demanded punishment for those they accused of ignoring dangers, as fury grows over the killing of so many soldiers in the biggest loss of life reported by Moscow so far.

Some military bloggers said the soldiers were being housed alongside an ammunition dump at the site, which the Russian Defense Ministry said was hit by four rockets fired from US-made HIMARS launchers.

The New Year's Eve strike on Makiivka came as Russia was launching what have become nightly waves of drone attacks on Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities.

Ukraine said the Russian death toll in Makiivka was in the hundreds, though pro-Russian officials called that an exaggeration

Russian military bloggers said the extent of the destruction was a result of storing ammunition in the same building as the barracks, despite commanders knowing it was within range of Ukrainian rockets.

Igor Girkin, former commander of militias in eastern Ukraine who is now a high-profile Russian nationalist military blogger, said the death toll could be even higher.

The vocational college was "destroyed almost entirely" as a result of the detonation of an ammunition dump in the same building. "Almost all the military equipment, parked next to the building without any camouflage, was also destroyed," Girkin said.

"What happened in Makiivka is horrible. There were a significant number of killed and wounded. Yesterday evening, they were still sorting through the rubble," wrote Archangel Spetznaz Z, a Russian military blogger with more than 700,000 followers on Telegram.

"Who came up with the idea to place personnel in large numbers in one building, where even a fool understands that even if they hit with artillery, there will be many wounded or dead?"

Ukraine almost never publicly claims responsibility for attacks on Russian-controlled territories, and President Volodymyr Zelensky did not address the Makiivka strike in his speech on Monday.

But the General Staff of Ukraine's Armed Forces reported the Makiivka attack as "a strike on Russian manpower and military equipment". It did not mention casualties, but said 10 pieces of military equipment were destroyed.

Criminal liability

The fury in Russia extended to lawmakers.

Grigory Karasin, a Russian Federal Assembly member and former deputy foreign minister, had not only demanded vengeance against Ukraine and its NATO supporters but also "an exacting internal analysis".

Sergey Mironov, a legislator and former chairman of the Federation Council of the Russian Federal Assembly, demanded criminal liability for the officials who had "allowed the concentration of military personnel in an unprotected building" and "all the higher authorities who did not provide the proper level of security".

Unverified footage posted online of the aftermath showed a huge building reduced to smoking rubble.

Some of the dead came from the southwestern Russian region of Samara, the region's governor told Russian media, urging concerned relatives to contact recruitment centers for information.

Andrey Medvedev, deputy speaker of the Moscow City Duma, said authorities, whether civilian or military, must value Russian lives.

"Either a person is of the highest value — and then punish for stupid losses of personnel, as for treason to the fatherland — or the country is over," he wrote on Telegram.

Meanwhile, Russian military enterprises are working nonstop during the New Year holidays, Sergey Chemezov, head of Russia's state defense military conglomerate Rostec, told TASS news agency.

Agencies via Xinhua contributed to this story.

renqi@chinadaily.com.cn