Ukraine’s military launched an overnight strike against the Russian-held town of Makiivka, showing it could still attack targets deep behind Russian lines as its troops fight tense trench warfare in a counteroffensive to retake ground.
Both Ukrainian and Russian officials indicated that Tuesday night’s attack in Makiivka was significant, but they differed on whether it struck a military or civilian area. And the strike had symbolic resonance because Makiivka is where Ukraine, in January, dealt Russia one of its biggest losses of life in a single strike since Moscow invaded nearly 18 months ago.
Video divided online by Ukraine’s military showed a huge fireball lighting up the night sky over Makiivka, in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine. The military said a “Russian base” had “ceased to exist” in the city thanks to Ukraine’s forces, while Tass, the Russian state news agency, reported that one man was killed and 68 civilians were injured. Neither claim could be independently verified.
The strike came four weeks into Ukraine’s slow but intense campaign against Russian troops, who dug in to the south and east with miles of trenches and minefields across exposed open fields. Since the counteroffensive began, Ukrainian forces have made small gains, and on Wednesday, General Oleksiy Hromov, deputy commander of operations on the army’s general staff, gave some details about their progress.
He said Ukraine had recaptured nine settlements in the past month, mostly small farming villages, and about 62 square miles. He also said that the “hot contact” line, where Ukraine was directly engaged with Russian forces, was about 745 miles long.
The numbers could not be independently verified, but they appeared to be consistent with previous reporting by The New York Times — and with the bitter, yard-by-yard nature of the fighting as Ukrainian soldiers and civilians described it. Russian officials said Ukraine’s campaign had been pushed back.
For months, as Ukraine prepared and launched its counteroffensive, and as Russia attacked in the front — faltering on many fronts and capturing only the eastern city of Bakhmut — the two sides traded long-range attacks on targets far from the front line.
While Ukraine has used Western-supplied weapons, such as the HIMARS missiles, to attack Russian supply lines and weapons depots, Russia has often targeted civilian centers, bombing Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, 17 times in May alone.
Although many of the Russian missiles and drones are shot down by Ukraine’s air defense systems, the attacks have left many Ukrainians in Kyiv on edge and ready to race to bomb shelters. Nerves ran high again Wednesday after a man detonated an explosive device in a courthouse in the city, setting off a standoff that ended with him dead and two responding officers injured. The authorities did not name the man, and his case did not appear to be connected to the war.
In the strike on Makiivka on Tuesday night, videos geolocated by The Times confirmed an explosion on the outskirts of the city: An initial blast ignited multiple secondary explosions and flares before setting off a much larger explosion, suggesting the site may have been a weapons cache.
Russia’s Defense Ministry did not immediately respond to Ukraine’s claims about the strike, but pro-Russian officials in Makiivka accused Ukraine of using Western-supplied, long-range rockets and artillery to attack civilians. Tass quoted a local official, Igor Kimakovsky, as saying that HIMARS rockets and artillery hit “peaceful” districts of the city. Those claims also could not be independently verified.
It was a HIMARS strike that killed at least 63 Russian soldiers — and possibly hundreds more — in a barracks in Makiivka on New Year’s Day. The attack drew criticism of the Russian military from some influential supporters of Moscow’s military effort and led Russia’s Defense Ministry to claim it had carried out retaliatory strikes on Ukraine.
At the time, the Russian authorities blamed their soldiers in Makiivka for revealing their location by using cellphones, saying the data enabled a strike by Ukrainian troops equipped with long-range weaponry from Western allies.
Makiivka, near the Russian-occupied city of Donetsk, is only about 10 miles from Ukrainian-held Avdiivka to the northwest — well within the roughly 50-mile range of the HIMARS missiles the United States has sent to Ukraine. The HIMARS system, military analysts say, is most effective against static targets that can be identified in advance and pinpointed, such as ammunition dumps, infrastructure and troop concentrations.
Anatoly Kurmanaev and Malachy Browne contributed reporting.