KYIV, Ukraine – Ukraine has claimed a series of successful artillery strikes against Russian barracks in the early days of the year, claiming it hit newly drafted men and other soldiers where they slept or congregated, killing or wounding more than 1,000.
The Russian military has confirmed one of three waves of claimed attacks, although the death toll was much lower than the Ukrainians estimated. However, even the lower figure of 89 soldiers killed in that attack represents a surprising setback for the Russian military.
Social media posts, reports from local residents and Russians blogging about military matters offered partial confirmation of the other attacks claimed by Ukraine, but no confirmation of casualties.
Military analysts say the Ukrainians’ use of long-range artillery, including US-supplied HIMARS precision missiles, to attack barracks marks a shift for artillery forces, which had for months concentrated on equipment such as ammunition depots.
The Ukrainian army’s focus on the Russian infantry is one of the first changes in its tactics with its American-supplied weapons, in response to Russia’s mobilization of hundreds of thousands of soldiers during the fall. The haphazard movement of additional soldiers into the war zone, many of them poorly trained and directed, has provided new targets behind the front lines for howitzers that can fire more than 20 miles and HIMARS missiles with a range of up to about 80 miles, analysts say.
Russian authorities say the use of personal mobile phones by conscripts on New Year’s Eve helped Ukrainians locate a vocational school, used to house soldiers, that was hit in the eastern Ukraine town of Makiivka.
Ukraine said the attack killed or injured several hundred soldiers, while the Russians reported 89 dead. Casualty estimates could not be independently confirmed, and armies often exaggerate their enemies’ losses and downplay their own. But in this case, footage of the pancaked vocational school and the Russian military’s confirmation of serious casualties showed a well-planned attack.
In the following days, the Ukrainian army claimed two more attacks targeting a series of towns in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions of southern Ukraine, resulting in a total of about 1,200 casualties in all three attacks combined. It was far from clear how reliable the claims were.
The Russians downplayed the damage in Zaporizhzhia and Kherson, but residents in nearby areas of the occupied territory told Ukrainian officials they heard loud explosions around the time of the alleged strikes.
An analysis of video footage by the DailyExpertNews confirmed severe damage to a veterans’ association in Tokmak annexed to a hospital complex, as well as the partial destruction of a four-story building along a shopping street in Vasylivka. Both cities, in the Zaporizhia region, were locations that the Ukrainian military said had been attacked. It was unclear whether any of these buildings housed Russian soldiers.
The claims of Ukrainian casualties may be partly intended to discourage the enemy.
On Friday, Ukrainian officials issued a warning that appeared to be part of a campaign to encourage men in Russia to evade conscription: much of Russia-occupied southern Ukraine, they said, is now within reach of Ukrainian artillery.
“Since our foreign partners provide 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 Ukrinform news agency on Wednesday. The reference was to the area along the Sea of Azov connecting southern Russia to the occupied Crimean peninsula, a stretch of land Russia seized early in its invasion.
Serhiy Hrabsky, a former colonel in the Ukrainian army who is now a commentator for Ukrainian media, said the recent attacks indicated that Ukraine had begun targeting conscript soldiers as they deployed.
“We are now seeing a large concentration of Russian troops on the front line,” Hrabsky said.
In the absence of enough trucks and other vehicles to disperse soldiers within range of Ukrainian missiles, he said, Russian commanders have massed together — and vulnerable. “They have to concentrate them to move them from point A to point B,” Mr Hrabsky said.
Russian bloggers covering the war and offering a more candid look at the Russian military than the state media generally downplay the strikes in southern Ukraine, despite sharply criticizing the Russian military command for the recognized attack in Makiivka.
But the bloggers did distribute a video on New Year’s Day showing a badly damaged building that The Times had geolocated to a country club, about 28 miles from a town where the Ukrainian military said it had hit congregations of troops.
Several military bloggers said a Russian volunteer may have inadvertently revealed the location of the site, the Grand Prix Country Club, by posting on social media. A man using the name Petr Lozhkovoy posted photos online from the site in November and December, saying Russian special forces were present.
The Russian Defense Ministry has not commented on attacks other than Makiivka. Pre-war Russian correspondents and occupation authorities offered limited details of the other attacks, saying military losses were minimal while emphasizing civilian collateral damage.
Two prominent Russian military social media outlets confirmed a Ukrainian attack in the Chulakovka area of the Kherson region on New Year’s Eve, without providing casualty estimates. The Telegram channel Gray Zone, which is affiliated with the Russian mercenary group Wagner, said the strike hit an agricultural complex near the village but gave no further details.
A review by The Times of medium-resolution satellite images of Chulakovka, as well as of the agricultural complex, showed no discernible damage caused by a strike, although that doesn’t mean none happened.
Radio Liberty quoted a local city official as saying explosions had been heard in the area of a pig farm where Russian soldiers were stationed.
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 Russian-occupied city of Enerhodar, said in a telephone interview.
Pro-Russian bloggers reported on strikes in the region two days after the Ukrainian army announced the attacks, claiming civilian sites, including a hospital, had been hit.
Andrew E. Kramer reported from Kiev, Ukraine. Reporting contributed by Oleksandr Chubko from Kiev, and on Alina Lobzina and Dmitry Khavin. James Surdam production contributed.