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Russia says 89 troops killed in Ukrainian strike, blames mobile phones

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Workers remove debris from a destroyed building, purported to be a vocational college used as temporary accommodation for Russian soldiers, after a Ukrainian missile strike, in Makiivka, in Russian-controlled Donetsk, on January 3, 2023. (Photo by Reuters)

Russia says Ukrainian forces have killed 89 Russian troops in a missile strike in the Donetsk region, blaming the deadly attack on the illegal use of mobile phones by its soldiers.

Lieutenant General Sergey Sevryukov made the remarks in a video statement released by Russia's Defense Ministry on Wednesday, following a strike on a school that was converted into military quarters in the Russian-controlled city of Makiivka in Donetsk.

"It is already obvious that the main reason for what happened was the switching on and massive use — contrary to the prohibition — by personnel of mobile phones in a reach zone of enemy weapons," Sevryukov said.

"This factor allowed the enemy to track and determine the coordinates of the soldiers' location for a missile strike," he added.

Sevryukov further noted that a commission was investigating the circumstances of the attack, adding that measures were being taken to ensure such incidents would not happen in the future.

Russia's Defense Ministry had already said that four rockets from the US-supplied High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) had been used in the attack.

The attack caused anger among Russian lawmakers, who called for revenge against Ukraine and its US-led NATO supporters.

Russia had previously announced that 63 Russian troops had been killed in the attack, which was carried out just after midnight on New Year's Day, but it raised the death toll after additional bodies were found under the rubble.

The new announcement came as mourners gathered in several cities of the Volga region of Samara — where some of the servicemen killed in the attack were from — to hold vigils.

Ukraine claimed responsibility for the strike on Russian forces late on Monday. Ukraine's Defense Ministry claimed that as many as 400 Russians had been killed.

However, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made no mention of the attack in a video address on Tuesday in which he said Russia was set to launch a major offensive to improve its fortunes.

"We have no doubt that current masters of Russia will throw everything they have left and everyone they can round up to try to turn the tide of the war and at least delay their defeat," Zelenskyy said.

"We have to disrupt this Russian scenario. We are preparing for this," he noted, stressing that,  "Any attempt at their new offensive must fail."

Russia started what it calls a "special military operation" in Ukraine with the declared aim of "de-Nazifying" the country on February 24, 2022. Since the beginning of the war, the United States and its European allies have imposed waves of economic sanctions on Moscow and supplied large consignments of heavy weaponry to Kiev.

Ukraine and Russia have in recent months exchanged hundreds of prisoners, despite a complete breakdown in broader diplomatic talks.

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