Russia Blames Cellphone Use for Deadly Ukrainian Strike

MOSCOW—Russia’s Ministry of Defense blamed the use of banned mobile phones for a deadly strike by Ukrainian forces on a facility that housed newly mobilized Russian soldiers, shifting responsibility for the incident to the victims and raising the death toll to 89, including the regiment’s deputy commander.

The update of the death toll Wednesday came as Russian defense officials said a commission was investigating the circumstances of the strike that it said occurred at 12:01 a.m. on New Year’s Day, the deadliest known assault on Russian forces during the war.

“It is already obvious that the main reason for what happened was the inclusion and massive use, contrary to the ban, by personnel of mobile phones in the reach of enemy weapons,” the defense ministry said in a statement posted on its Telegram messenger channel. “This factor allowed the enemy to locate and determine the coordinates of the location of military personnel for launching a missile strike.”

The statement, attributed to Lt. Gen. Sergei Sevryukov, first deputy chief of the main military-political directorate of Russia’s armed forces, said all necessary measures were being taken to “prevent similar tragic incidents in the future” and “as result of the investigation, the guilty officials will be brought to justice,” it said.

People laid flowers near the Eternal Flame memorial in Samara, Russia, on Tuesday.



Military analysts have said Russian forces are repeating basic errors that are compromising the security and safety of their own soldiers in occupied Ukraine. They say the failure to shut down cellphone use in areas where troops are concentrated within range of Ukrainian artillery is the latest example of poor Russian operational security.

In the statement, the defense ministry said Ukrainian forces launched six missiles from the U.S.-supplied Himars rocket system at the temporary deployment point of one of the Russian military units near the settlement of Makiivka, a city in the Donbas area of eastern Ukraine. Two rockets were intercepted by Russian air defense forces on duty, the ministry said, but another four, carrying “a high-explosive fragmentation warhead” hit the building where Russian military personnel were stationed, causing the ceilings of the building to collapse, the ministry said.

It said Russian forces returned fire and destroyed the launcher of the rocket system used in the attack.

The wounded Russian soldiers were provided first aid and evacuated to medical facilities, the ministry said. Others were found buried in the rubble of the reinforced concrete structures, pushing the death toll to 89 from 63. The deputy commander of the regiment who was killed was named as Lt. Col. Bachurin.

On Tuesday, Rybar, a Telegram channel with links to the Russian military, said more than 100 Russian servicemen were killed, while Ukraine’s armed forces—without saying they were behind the strike—said Monday that 400 troops had died and 300 were wounded at the facility. Some Russian military journalists and bloggers, who embed with the Russian military, estimated that casualties ranged from 200 to 600 people and blamed commanders for concentrating so many soldiers in one building that is close to munitions.

Write to Ann M. Simmons at

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