Ukrainian school rejects Russian claims that soldiers were killed there

KRAMATORSK, Ukraine (AP) — Officials at a vocational school in an eastern Ukrainian town have dismissed Russian claims that hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers were killed in a missile strike there , saying on Monday that a rocket simply blew out windows and damaged classrooms.

Russia specifically named the vocational school in Kramatorsk as a target of attack in the nearly 11-month war. The Russian Defense Ministry said its missiles hit two temporary bases housing 1,300 Ukrainian troops in the city, killing 600 of them on Saturday night.

Associated Press reporters visiting the scene on a sunny day Monday saw a four-story concrete building with most of its windows blown out. Inside, residents were cleaning up debris, sweeping up broken glass and tossing broken furniture into a missile crater below.

A separate six-story school building was largely intact. There were no signs of Ukrainian military presence and no casualties.

Yana Pristupa, the school’s deputy principal, scoffed at Moscow’s claims that it hit a concentration of troops.

“Nobody saw a single bloodstain anywhere,” she told the AP. “Everyone saw yesterday that no one took away any corpses. They’re just people cleaning up.

She said that before the war started last February, the school had more than 300 students, most studying mechanical engineering, with most classes taught online when Russia invaded.

The students “are in shock now,” she said, adding, “What a great school it was.”

Ukrainian officials on Sunday quickly denied Russian claims that large numbers of troops were lost in the attack.

Despite the absence of any evidence that hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers died in the attack, Moscow stood still. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the reports at the scene did not shake senior officials’ confidence in the defense authorities.

“The Defense Ministry is the main, legitimate and complete source of information on the conduct of the special military operation,” Peskov said Monday in a conference call with reporters, using the Kremlin term for the war.

During the war, both sides regularly claimed to have killed hundreds of their soldiers in attacks. Claims can rarely be independently verified due to fighting.

However, Moscow’s allegations may have had the opposite effect domestically, as some Russian military bloggers criticized the Kremlin’s claims about the Kramatorsk strike.

The Institute for the Study of War think tank said bloggers “responded negatively to the Russian (Defense Ministry) claim, pointing out that the Russian Defense Ministry frequently presents fraudulent allegations and criticizing Russian military leaders for fabricating a story…instead of holding Russian leaders accountable for casualties.

A Russian Defense Ministry spokesman said the strikes on Kramatorsk were retaliation for Ukraine’s attack on Makiivka on New Year’s Eve, in which at least 89 Russian soldiers gathered in a temporary barracks are dead, according to Moscow. Ukrainian authorities said the death toll in the attack was in the hundreds.

It was one of the deadliest attacks on Kremlin forces since the war began more than 10 months ago and an embarrassing loss.

Such revenge strikes have taken place before. When Ukraine in early October hit a bridge connecting the Russian-occupied Crimean Peninsula to Russia, damaging an important supply artery for the Kremlin’s faltering war effort in southern Ukraine, and striking a key symbol of Russian power in the region, the Kremlin sent a first massive barrage against Ukraine’s energy facilities. It was presented as retaliation for the attack on the bridge and heralded a period of relentless shelling of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure.

Ukraine’s presidential office reported on Monday that at least three civilians had been killed and 12 others injured in the country in the past 24 hours as nine Ukrainian regions in the southeast of the country were bombarded.

In an attack on Monday, two people were killed and five others, including a 13-year-old girl, were injured when a Russian rocket strike hit a village market in the northeastern region of Kharkiv, Ukrainian officials said.

Kharkiv Regional Governor Oleh Syniehubov said the strike affected the village of Shevchenkove. Photos posted by Syniehubov on his Telegram channel showed crumbling pavilions, some of which were still on fire, and rubble all around.

According to Ukrainian officials, more people could be trapped under the rubble. A rescue operation to find them was underway.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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