Russia to troops: Your cell phones just created the deadliest strike of the Ukraine war

Mourners gather to lay flowers in Samara on January 3, 2023. in memory of Russian soldiers killed in a Ukrainian strike on Russian-controlled territory.
Mourners gather to lay flowers in the Russian city of Samara on Jan. 3, 2023, in memory of Russian soldiers killed in a Ukrainian strike on Russian-controlled territory.
Arden Arkman—AFP/Getty Images

Moscow has pointed the finger at its own personnel, labeling their widespread use of cell phones as the “main reason” for dozens of its troops being killed in a missile strike in Russian-occupied eastern Ukraine—the deadliest confirmed strike on Russian troops during the entire invasion, which is almost a year old. What makes it even harder for Russia to stomach is that it told its soldiers not to use cell phones.

Russia’s Defense Ministry confirmed in a Telegram post on Wednesday that a Ukrainian strike on a barracks in Russian-held Makiivka, in the region of Donetsk, had killed 89 of its troops. The deadly strike took place around midnight on New Year’s Eve. Earlier accounts from Ukrainian officials suggested the death toll from the attack was far higher than Moscow has publicly acknowledged.

Fortune was not able to independently verify either report.

Russia—which revised its numbers upward on Wednesday after initially announcing that just over 60 personnel had died in the strike—said that while an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the incident were being investigated, it was clear why the death toll was so high.

“It is already obvious that the main reason, despite restrictions, was the turning on and massive use of mobile phones by personnel within the range area of enemy firepower,” senior Russian military official Lieutenant General Sergei Sevryukov said in a statement early Wednesday morning. “This allowed the enemy to locate the personnel for launching the missile strike.”

He added that Russian officials were taking measures to prevent “similar tragic incidents” from occurring again in the future.

“As a result of the investigation, the guilty officials will be brought to justice,” Sevryukov said.

Russia’s ‘unprofessional’ military strategies blamed

It is rare for Moscow to confirm military casualties on the frontlines in Ukraine, and the Kremlin conceding these fatalities has led to anger and accusations of incompetence in Russia.

In an update on Wednesday, the British Ministry of Defense said the New Year’s Eve strike saw Ukraine’s armed forces target a school building in Makiivka that Russian forces had “almost certainly taken over for military use.”

British officials said the building—which stood less than eight miles from one of the most intensely contested areas of the conflict—was completely destroyed.

“Given the extent of the damage, there is a realistic possibility that ammunition was being stored near to troop accommodation, which detonated during the strike creating secondary explosions,” British defense officials said. “The Russian military has a record of unsafe ammunition storage from well before the current war, but this incident highlights how unprofessional practices contribute to Russia’s high casualty rate.”

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