Ukraine Situation Report: Russian Strike In Donetsk Caught On Live TV

A crew from the French TMC television channel inadvertently captured a massive explosion at a key Ukrainian rail transit and storage hub in the Donetsk city of Druzhkovka on Monday night.

The explosion took place in the background as the reporter was broadcasting live. The violent blast and following roar caused him to duck before the shot cutaway to the studio, where the host of the top-rated Quotidien talk show looked puzzled and wondered aloud what happened.

The attack, which occurred about 20 miles west of the embattled city of Bakhmut, apparently hit the Altair Ice Arena being used as a storage facility for Ukrainian humanitarian efforts as well as the local railroad station. It quickly set off a chain of claims and counterclaims, including another dubious Russian Defense Ministry (MoD) assertion about the destruction of two U.S. M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS systems and four Czech-made RM-70 Vampire MLRS combat vehicles.

Russia so far has claimed more HIMARS – which are devastating its forces – have been destroyed than actually delivered to Ukraine.

The Russian MoD also claimed 120 Ukrainian troops were killed in that attack. However, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, an aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, said on his Telegram channel that only two troops were wounded in that attack.

A Ukrainian MoD source, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, told The War Zone that the claims about the HIMARS and Vampire systems are “fake news from Russian propaganda. That’s not true.”

The Pentagon said it was tracking the claims, which are frequently made by the Russian MoD, but was “unable to confirm the accuracy at this time,” Marine Lt. Col. Garron Garn, a Pentagon spokesman, told The War Zone Tuesday morning.

If a HIMARS truck were destroyed, the Pentagon should know. It closely tracks all the weapons it provides, including the 20 HIMARS turned over to Ukraine so far, Garn said.

U.S.-supplied HIMARS in Ukraine with meme paint job
A U.S.-provided HIMARS multiple launch rocket system vehicle decorated by Ukrainians. (Hannibal Hanschkу via Ukrainian Government) Hannibal Hanschkу via Ukrainian Government

“Inside of Ukraine, DoD has adapted its accountability practices for the combat environment in Ukraine through expanded self-reporting mechanisms and site inspections (security conditions permitting),” he said. “First, we make comprehensive records of U.S. weapons donations at our distribution nodes immediately prior to transfer to Ukraine. Once in-country, Ukraine has begun to log and track U.S. security assistance from the border logistics hubs to the front line.”

Ukraine, he added, “also provides expenditure and damage reports to capture losses. DoD has also worked with Ukraine to improve data collection, leveraging improved technologies to expand self-reporting mechanisms.”  

Ukraine “continues to provide information transparently and openly,” said Garn. “To verify this data, DoD personnel at Embassy Kyiv recently resumed on-site inspections to assess weapons stocks in-country, and will continue to do so whenever and wherever security conditions allow.”

The War Zone also reached out to the Czech Republic’s Embassy in Washington, D.C., and is awaiting its response. We will update this story with any comment provided.

The pro-Russian Readovka Telegram channel claimed that the day before the attack, “the Ukrainian military were unloading weapons and military equipment delivered to the city. Prior to this, several units of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and the territorial defense were transferred to Druzhkovka. The transfer was carried out from the Kharkov and Dnepropetrovsk regions through Kramatorsk, which is just a few kilometers away. Apparently, the Ukrainian side, as usual, hushed up real losses, but there is no exact data yet.”

The Ukrainian MoD source declined to comment to The War Zone about those claims.

Ukrainian officials, however, said that the arena struck by Russia was a storage facility for humanitarian aid. After the attack, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Twitter invited “all sports officials who want to allow Russian athletes to compete in international events” to visit the arena.

“Every foreign politician or sports official before saying ‘sports should be out of politics’ should first look at these photos,” Kuleba said on his Instagram page, which includes several images of the aftermath of the attack. “Ukrainian and international competitions were held here. Kids and adults trained here. It was not just a sports facility, but one of the key arenas for the development of Ukrainian sports and the largest school of hockey and figure skating in Ukraine. The only hits happening here were hockey bullets. Until the hit was hit by … Russian bombs.”

The attack, said Kuleba, is further reason Russian and Belarusian athletes should be banned from international competitions.

“Russia and Belarus should [hold] … full responsibility for their crimes against peace and their athletes cannot participate in international competitions as if nothing happened,” he said.

The influential Russian Rybar Telegram channel downplayed claims that the attack in Druzhkovka was a response to a Ukrainian HIMARS attack the previous day on a converted school in Makiivka that killed scores of Russian conscripts.

The Rybar Telegram channel posted what it claimed are the locations of two Russian strikes against Ukrainian troops in Druzhkovka, Donetsk Oblast. (Rybar Telegram channel image)

“Many called the massive shelling of Druzhkovka and Kramatorsk a response to a strike on a vocational school in Makiivka, where more than 100 Russian servicemen were killed,” Rybar wrote. “The defeat of military targets should not occur in response to something. Systematic fire impact, suppression of air defense position areas and high-precision strikes are just elements of warfare.”

In a conflict where information operations have played a huge role for both sides, the attack on Druzhkovka is another example showing that the fog of war remains thick.

Before we dive into the latest news from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can get caught up on our previous rolling coverage here.

The Latest

As Ukraine and Russia trade dueling artillery strikes, there remains little real progress by either side on the ground as both continue to jockey for small bits of territory in the Donetsk, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia oblasts. Here are some key takeaways from the latest Institute for the Study of War assessment: 

  • Russia’s air and missile campaign against Ukraine is likely not generating the Kremlin’s desired information effects among Russia’s nationalists.
  • Russian forces continued to carry out unsuccessful attempts to improve their tactical positions northwest of Svatove after reportedly conducting a tactical pause.
  • The Ukrainian Center for Defense Strategies reported that Russian forces are continuing to deploy personnel on the Kharkiv-Siversk frontline.
  • Ukrainian officials reported that Russian forces are redeploying along the eastern axis while struggling to maintain their pace of artillery strikes.
  • Russian forces attempted limited offensive operations in Zaporizhia Oblast and continued efforts to reinforce defensive structures.

There were apparently more Ukrainian drone attacks on Russian-occupied Crimea overnight, the latest in ongoing assaults by unmanned aerial and sea vehicles.

Sevastopol Governor Mikhail Razvozhaev reported on his Telegram channel that two drones were intercepted and shot down over the Black Sea on Jan. 2.

“The air defense system operates in Sevastopo,” he wrote shortly before 2.00 P.M. local time. “According to preliminary data, a UAV was shot down over the sea. All services are operating normally.”

About 45 minutes later, he reported another attack. “Air defense systems shot down another UAV over the sea. Our military continues to repel the attack. Everyone please remain calm.”

Russian air defenses were also activated over Dzhankoy, home to a Russian airbase.

With Ukrainian officials making no secret of their desire to liberate Crimea, Russia continues strengthening its fortifications on the peninsula it has occupied since 2014. Russian concerns about Sevastopol in particular were dramatically increased following a massive drone boat attack in October, which you can read more about here. This new barrier reported by @CovertShores shows the latest effort to bolster Sevastopol’s harbor defenses.

French journalists recently got an exclusive tour of a frontline Ukrainian unit in Bakhmut tasked with identifying Russian positions and correcting artillery fire on them. You can see some of their footage here.

The brutal fighting there has often required intensive efforts to evacuate the wounded, as you can see in this video.

The Wagner mercenary group has played a huge role in Russia’s offensive in Bakhmut. But apparently, Wagner capo di tutti capi Yevgeny Prigozhin admits that his offensive there is stalled.

Ukraine’s Defense Intelligence Directorate (GUR) has said that “Russians will try to continue offensive actions next year and in the future. In none of the directions did they succeed in achieving their goal.” The comments were made by Andriy Chernyak, a GUR spokesman, to the Ukrainian RBC news outlet. “They understand that they will lose, but they do not plan to end the war,” he said. “We are considering the possibility that they may leave at the same time from the north or the east. Such actions of the enemy are expected and our troops are ready for it.”

Chernyak said he is sure that the Russians will try to hold the land corridor to Crimea and capture the entire Donetsk region. He added that Moscow will not be able to force the Dnipro to capture Kherson again.

“According to the estimates of military intelligence of Ukraine, in the next 4-5 months, the Russian army may lose up to 70,000 people,” he said. “And the leadership of the occupying country is ready for such losses.”

While there has been talk about an attack from Belarus, Ukrainian Brig. General Oleksiy Gromov, Deputy Chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces, said on Tuesday that Russia has removed all stocks of ammunition for artillery systems from Russia’s client state north of Ukraine, according to the Ukrainian United24 Telegram channel. Those stocks were first placed there by Russia before it launched its full-on invasion last February.

With some of the fiercest fighting of the war taking place along the P-66 Highway running from Svatove to Kreminna in Luhansk Oblast, video emerged of the Ukrainian Special Operations Forces’ KRAKEN unit helping to liberate the town of Novoselivske near Svatove, which you can see below.

Video also emerged of a Ukrainian strike on a Russian ammunition storage facility in Svatove.

Furthermore, video has surfaced of another incident of what the Ukrainians call “bavovna” – a word for cotton turned into a euphemism for unexplained fires and explosions on Russian facilities, this time across the border in Belgorod. The city has been a frequent target of Ukrainian attacks.

Ukrainian law enforcement officers have discovered another torture chamber in the Mykolaiv Oblast, in the village of Oleksandrivka, liberated from Russia, according to the Ukrainian Euromaidan Press news agency.

“Investigators found that Russian troops detained and tortured residents of the region who refused to cooperate with the invaders,” it reported. “The civilians were beaten, tortured, and suffocated with plastic bags to force them to sell out members of the Ukrainian resistance and activists.”

This conflict is proving that some things don’t change, but they are improved upon. Back in World War II, Allied and Axis air defense batteries alike used spotlights to search for threats from above. Ukraine too is utilizing this tactic, in this case truck-mounted searchlights used by its anti-drone mobile fire teams. You can read all about how these teams work, and what they use to illuminate and try and take down enemy drones, in this previous War Zone report.

Video emerged Tuesday of Ukraine air defenses responding to a wave of Iranian-made Shahed 136 drone attacks on Kyiv from the night before.

And finally, aside from the human toll on Ukraine, this war is also devastating its environment, like the fish in the Dnipro River.

That’s it for now. We will update this story when there is anything major to add.

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Howard Altman

Senior Staff Writer

Howard is a Senior Staff Writer for The War Zone, and a former Senior Managing Editor for Military Times. Prior to this, he covered military affairs for the Tampa Bay Times as a Senior Writer. Howard's work has appeared in various publications including Yahoo News, RealClearDefense, and Air Force Times.