Flowers and prayers: Rallies were held in Russia on Tuesday to pay tribute to the dozens of servicemen killed by a strike in eastern Ukraine, a shock that sparked a wave of criticism against the army.
• Read also: What we know about the deadly Makiïvka strike in Ukraine
• Read also: Ukraine: 63 Russian soldiers killed in a strike near Donetsk
Unusually in Russia, where the public authorities remain discreet about military losses in Ukraine, around 200 people gathered with the approval of the authorities in Samara (center), where some of the soldiers killed were from.
Some laid flowers in front of an eternal flame in one of the city's main squares, before bowing respectfully, an AFP correspondent saw.
According to local media, rallies were also taking place in other cities in the region, notably in Togliatti and Syzran.
In a rare admission, the Russian Ministry of Defense admitted on Monday that 63 soldiers had died in a Ukrainian strike on New Year's Eve on a building where they were gathered in Makiivka, a city under Russian occupation in the Donetsk region, whose Moscow claims annexation. Kyiv evokes a much higher balance sheet.
The losses, among the heaviest suffered by Moscow in a single attack since the start of the offensive against Ukraine on February 24, have drawn criticism from nationalist commentators who favor military intervention.
The emotion was reinforced by the fact that the soldiers killed were reservists who had been mobilized.
"I haven't slept for three days," said during the ceremony to Samara Ekaterina Kolotovkina, the wife of a Russian general and president of a women's committee close to the army.
"For the first time since the start of the special military operation, I asked (my husband) for revenge, for the tears of mothers, for inconsolable widows, for orphans," she added. .
On Telegram, a group claiming to be made up of Russian "soldiers' widows" called on Vladimir Putin on Monday to begin a "large-scale mobilization" to "save" Russia.
The Russian president himself has not yet reacted to the attack in Makiivka, announced in the middle of the Orthodox Christmas holiday week, a traditionally joyful period when Russians meet with family.
The Kremlin only let it be known on Tuesday that it had ordered a report from Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on the state of the equipment provided to Russian troops in Ukraine and on the “measures” to be taken to reinforce them.
According to the Russian Defense Ministry, the missiles that hit Makiivka were fired from HIMARS multiple rocket launchers, a weapon supplied by the United States to Ukrainian forces.
After the defeats suffered in recent months by Moscow in Kharkiv (north-east) and Kherson (south), which had given rise to criticism of the Russian military command, this slaughter has sparked a new peak of anger and calls for punishment. the responsibles.
“What conclusions will be drawn? Who will be punished?”, launched the communist deputy Mikhaïl Matveïev, elected in Samara.
Several commentators in favor of the military intervention, widely followed on social networks, in particular protested against the possibility that ammunition was stored in the same building which was used to house the soldiers.
The Telegram account Rybar - which has more than a million subscribers - thus criticized the "criminal naivety" which led to housing them next to this ammunition depot.
Others pointed out that the military had been housed in an ordinary, unprotected building, and complained that information on the whereabouts of Russian soldiers, in particular via the geolocation of their phones, regularly reached the Ukrainian army. .
“Every house, a fortress”
For their part, the Ukrainians said they had faced several attacks since the New Year.
On Monday, Kyiv again came under fire from Iranian-made drones, but the bulk of them were shot down, authorities said. President Volodymyr Zelensky claimed that his army destroyed more than 80 aircraft in total.
On Monday evening, the governor of the Kharkiv region (northeast), Oleg Synegoubov, pointed out that the second largest city in Ukraine and its region had been the target of Russian missiles.
The fiercest fighting, however, is taking place around the city of Bakhmout (east), of no real strategic importance, but which the Russian forces, led by the Wagner mercenary group, have been trying to take for months.
The head of this organization, Yevgeny Prigojine, a businessman close to Vladimir Putin, admitted that the situation there was difficult.
Sometimes his men fight “for weeks to (take) a house,” he said in an interview with the Russian news agency Ria-Novosti published on Tuesday.