Ukrainian officials on Sunday dismissed Moscow’s claim that a large number of Kyiv’s soldiers were killed in a Russian attack last week in Kramatorsk, eastern Ukraine.
“This is nonsense,” Serhii Cherevatyi, a spokesman for Eastern Group of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, told CNN, in response to the Russian claim.
A CNN team on the ground has seen no indication of any massive casualties in the area. There is no unusual activity in and around Kramatorsk, including in the vicinity of the city morgue, the team reported.
A Reuters reporter in Kramtorsk also reported no signs of a significant Russian strike on two college dormitories that Russia claimed had been housing hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers.
“There were no obvious signs that soldiers had been living there and no sign of bodies or traces of blood,” the Reuters report said.
Kramatorsk’s mayor said there had been no casualties, according to Reuters.
Earlier, Russia claimed that more than 600 Ukrainian soldiers were killed in a Russian strike in Kramatorsk carried out in “retaliation” over the Ukrainian attack on Russian-occupied Makiivka last week, according to a statement from the Russian Defense Ministry.
The Makiivka strike took place just after midnight on New Year’s Day, targeting a vocational school housing Russian conscripts in Makiivka, in the Donetsk region, according to both Ukrainian and pro-Russian accounts.
At least 89 Russian soldiers were killed – a rare Russian admission of a high death toll. The Ukrainian military reported even higher figures, initially claiming up to around 400 Russian soldiers were killed. CNN cannot independently verify either side’s reported death toll. In either case, the strike marked one of the deadliest episodes of the conflict for Moscow’s forces.
A rare public blame game broke out between the Russian government and some pro-Kremlin leaders and military experts in the aftermath of the strike, after Moscow appeared to blame its own soldiers’ use of cell phones.
The Russian Defense Ministry said “the main cause” of the Makiivka strike was the widespread use of cell phones by Russian soldiers, “contrary to the ban,” which allowed Ukraine to “track and determine the coordinates of the soldiers’ locations.”
But that account was angrily dismissed by an influential military blogger and implicitly contradicted by the leader of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) in eastern Ukraine, pointing to discord in the Russian command over Moscow’s response to the attack.
CNN’s Rob Picheta and Mick Krever contributed reporting.