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Ukraine Claims Heavy Russian Losses in Waves of Missile Strikes

KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine has claimed a string of successful artillery attacks on Russian barracks in the first days of the year, asserting that it hit newly drafted men and other soldiers where they were sleeping or congregating, killing or wounding more than 1,000.

The Russian military has confirmed one of the three waves of claimed strikes, though it gave a much lower death toll than the Ukrainians estimate. Even the lower toll of 89 soldiers killed in that attack, however, represents a startling setback for the Russian military.

Social media posts, reports from local residents and Russians who blog about military affairs offered partial confirmation of the other strikes claimed by Ukraine, but not corroboration of the casualty counts.

Military analysts say the Ukrainians’ use of long-range artillery, including American-provided HIMARS precision rockets, to target barracks marks a shift for the artillery forces, which for months had concentrated on matériel like ammunition depots.

The Ukrainian military’s focus on the Russian infantry is among the first changes seen in its tactics with its American-provided weaponry, in response to Russia’s mobilization of hundreds of thousands of soldiers over the fall. The haphazard movement of additional soldiers into the war zone, many of them poorly trained and led, has presented new targets behind the front lines for howitzers that can fire more than 20 miles and HIMARS rockets with a range of up to about 50 miles, analysts say.

Workers clearing rubble on Wednesday after a rocket attack that killed dozens of Russian soldiers in Makiivka, in Russian-controlled Ukraine. Credit…Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters

The Russian authorities say that draftees’ use of personal cellphones on New Year’s Eve helped the Ukrainians pinpoint a vocational school, being used to house soldiers, that was hit in the city of Makiivka in eastern Ukraine.

The State of the War

  • A Long Fight Ahead: As the one-year anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine looms, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia is doubling down on efforts to draw the nation further into the war effort.
  • A Major Ukrainian Attack: In one of their deadliest strikes on Russian forces, Ukrainians used U.S.-made rockets to hit a building housing Russian soldiers in the eastern Donetsk region.
  • U.S. Troops in Romania: The deployment of the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division to the country, a NATO member, is widely seen as a deterrence tactic and a warning to Moscow.
  • Russian Airstrikes: Ten months into the war, Ukraine has turned the tide on the ground, but it can do little to stop Russia’s aerial attacks. For Ukrainians, there are few options but to endure.

Ukraine said the attack killed or wounded several hundred soldiers, while the Russians reported 89 dead. The casualty estimates could not be independently confirmed, and militaries often exaggerate the losses of their enemies and downplay their own. But in this instance, images of the pancaked vocational school, and the Russian military’s confirmation of serious losses, showed a well-planned strike.

In the ensuing days, the Ukrainian military claimed two more attacks directed at an array of towns in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions of southern Ukraine, claiming a total of about 1,200 casualties in all three sets of strikes together. It was far from clear how reliable the claims were.

The Russians played down the damage in Zaporizhzhia and Kherson, but residents in nearby areas of the occupied territory told Ukrainian officials that they had heard loud explosions around the time of the claimed strikes.

A New York Times analysis of video footage confirmed severe damage at a veterans association in Tokmak that was annexed to a hospital complex, as well as the partial destruction of a four-story building alongside a commercial street in Vasylivka. Both cities, in the Zaporizhzhia region, were locations the Ukrainian military said it had struck. It was unclear whether any of these buildings were housing Russian soldiers.

The Ukrainian casualty claims may be intended in part to unnerve the enemy.

On Friday, Ukrainian officials issued a warning that appeared to be part of acampaign to encourage men in Russia to evade the draft: Much of Russian-occupied southern Ukraine, they said, now lies within range of Ukrainian artillery.

“Given that our foreign partners supply us with new types of weapons, the so-called land corridor to Crimea is certainly not safe,” Andriy Cherniak, a spokesman for Ukraine’s military intelligence agency, told the Ukrinform news agency Wednesday. The reference was to the area along the Sea of Azov linking southern Russia to the occupied Crimean Peninsula, a swath of land Russia seized early in its invasion.

Serhiy Hrabsky, a former colonel in the Ukrainian military who is now commentator for Ukrainian media, said the recent strikes suggested that Ukraine had begun trying to target conscripted soldiers as they deploy.

“We see a large concentration of Russian troops on the front lines now,” Mr. Hrabsky said.

A building used as a local headquarters by Russian occupying forces in Kupiansk that was destroyed by a U.S.-supplied missile system in October.Credit…Carl Court/Getty Images

Lacking sufficient trucks and other vehicles to disperse soldiers within range of Ukrainian missiles, he said, Russian commanders have left large groups congregated — and vulnerable. “They need to concentrate them just to move them from point A to point B,” Mr. Hrabsky said.

Russian bloggers who cover the war, and offer a more unvarnished lens on the Russian military than state media, generally played down the strikes in southern Ukraine despite sharply criticizing the Russian military command for the acknowledged attack in Makiivka.

But the bloggers did circulate a video on New Year’s Day showing a heavily damaged building that The Times geolocated to a country club about 28 miles from a town where the Ukrainian military said it had struck troop congregations.

Several military bloggers said that a Russian volunteer may have inadvertently exposed the location of the site, the Grand Prix Country Club, by posting on social media. A man using the name Petr Lozhkovoy posted online pictures of the site in November and December and said Russian special forces were present.

The Russian defense ministry has not commented on any other strikes apart from Makiivka. Pro-war Russian correspondents and occupation authorities offered limited details of the other attacks, saying military losses were minimal while highlighting civilian collateral damage.

In Kherson, a former Russia barracks damaged by HIMARS rockets in November. Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

Two prominent Russian military social media channels confirmed a Ukrainian strike in the Chulakovka area of Kherson region on New Year’s Eve, without providing casualty estimates. The Telegram channel Grey Zone, which is affiliated with Russian mercenary group Wagner, said the strike hit a farming complex near the village but provided no other details.

A review by The Times of medium-resolution satellite imagery of Chulakovka, as well as the farming complex, did not show any detectable damage caused by a strike, though that does not mean one did not occur.

Radio Liberty cited a local official from the town as saying that explosions had been heard in the area of a pig farm where Russian soldiers had been garrisoned.

During a strike in the Zaporizhzia region on Jan. 2, residents of nearby towns reported hearing a loud explosion, Dmytro Orlov, the exiled mayor of the city of Russian-occupied city of Enerhodar said in a telephone interview.

Pro-Russian bloggers posted about strikes in the region two days after the Ukrainian military announced the attacks, and claimed that civilian sites, including a hospital, had been hit.

Andrew E. Kramer reported from Kyiv, Ukraine. Reporting was contributed by Oleksandr Chubko from Kyiv, and by Alina Lobzina and Dmitriy Khavin. James Surdam contributed production.

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