(Reuters) -Dozens of Russian recruits were killed in a Ukrainian New Year’s Eve attack on their quarters in the Russian-controlled part of Ukraine’s Donetsk province, a source close to the Russian-appointed leadership said on Monday.
Footage posted online, which Reuters could not immediately verify, showed a building purported to be a vocational college in the mining town of Makiivka reduced to a field of smouldering rubble.
The Donetsk source, who declined to be named, said: “According to my information, there are fewer than 100 killed so far.”
Ukraine’s defence ministry said as many as 400 Russians had been killed.
“What is being reported is greatly exaggerated. Fifty-eight wounded were brought in overnight, which is a lot for a normal day and not much if you believe the information about hundreds of dead. It was a site for mobilised Russian recruits.”
Reuters was unable to verify the battlefield account.
The Russian Defence Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for a comment. In its daily report on Sunday, it said it had destroyed seven HIMARS rockets fired by Ukrainian forces, including near Makiivka.
Russia has mobilised since September at least 300,000 soldiers and has been sending them to bolster its faltering military campaign in Ukraine.
Daniil Bezsonov, a senior Russian-backed regional official in the Moscow-controlled parts of the Donetsk region, said the vocational school had been hit by U.S.-made HIMARS rockets at around midnight, as people in the region would have been celebrating the start of the New Year.
“There was a massive strike on the vocational school from American MLRS HIMARS,” Bezsonov said on the Telegram messaging app. “There were dead and wounded, the exact number is still unknown. The building itself was badly damaged.”
Igor Girkin, a nationalist and former Federal Security Service (FSB) officer who helped Russia annex Crimea in 2014 and then organise pro-Russian militias in eastern Ukraine, said in a Telegram post at 0908 GMT on Monday that “the number of dead and wounded runs into many hundreds”.
Girkin, who has bitterly criticised Russia’s military failures in Ukraine, said ammunition had been stored in the same building where the recruits had been accommodated.
“This is not the only such (extremely dense) deployment of personnel and equipment in the destruction zone [range] of HIMARS missiles,” he wrote. “And - yes - this is not the first such case.”
Reporting by Reuters; Writing by Lidia Kelly, Ron Popeski and Kevin LiffeyEditing by Nick Zieminski and Gareth Jones