Vladimir Putin’s holiday gift to Ukrainians ringing in the New Year was a deadly bombardment in Kyiv and cities across the country. Shortly after the clock struck midnight, air defence batteries picked up dozens of Iranian-made Shahed-136 drones, laden down with explosives and closing in on civilian targets. Although as many as 45 were intercepted en route, four people were killed and tens injured, while several public buildings were damaged in the capital.

In a televised speech as rescuers sifted through the rubble, Volodymyr Zelenskyi declared that the attacks were an act of cowardice and fear on Russia’s part. “And they are right to be afraid because they will lose,” he went on.

As if to underline his point, just hours earlier Kyiv had been carrying out a New Year’s Eve strike of its own, doing far more damage to the enemy and striking deep at the heart of Moscow’s occupying force. Using an American-made HIMARS rocket launcher, the Ukrainian armed forces reportedly hit a converted school that was being used as a base for Russia’s troops and their proxies in Makiivka, an industrial city just outside Donetsk in the eastern Donbas.

According to a statement from Ukrainian commanders, around 400 soldiers were killed and a further 300 injured, although officials have refused to confirm or deny whether they were behind the blast and since said that the casualty count is yet to be confirmed. They have since taken responsibility for hitting “Russian manpower and military equipment.” Pictures and video from the scene shows a smoking crater where the building once was.

Despite knowing that HIMARS rockets are able to strike deep into the territory they occupy and are virtually impossible to shoot down, the mainly-conscript force was put up close to an ammunition dump, sources say. When the store of ammunition and explosives went up, few nearby could have had any hopes of survival.

Now, questions are growing inside Russia about who is to blame. In a rare acknowledgement, Moscow’s Ministry of Defence announced that 63 of its servicemen were killed, making it by their own admission among the deadliest episodes of the war for the Kremlin’s forces. Igor Girkin, a former Russian intelligence officer who organised militias in occupied Eastern Ukraine after the start of the conflict in 2014, blamed officers for failing to camouflage military hardware and quartering soldiers so close to munitions.

The incident is just the latest in a string of apparent failings that have enraged even the most pro-war Russian commentators. Mobilised conscripts have reportedly been sent into battle with rusting Soviet gear, without clear orders and assigned to roles they aren’t trained for. One so-called “mobik” who spoke to independent news site Meduza in the days after summons were handed out said that well-drilled snipers had been told they would be made infantrymen or mortar crews. Meanwhile, there are reports morale is at an all-time low given the setbacks on the front lines, and the fact that those who signed up for contracts for a few months are being refused leave to return home indefinitely.

For many Russians, the problem is not so much that Russia is fighting an illegal war against a country many considered a brother nation. The problem is that Russia is losing. “The cowards you see in Georgia, Armenia and Turkey just ran away,” Nika, a 24-year-old student from Krasnodar tells Reaction, adding that she will always support her country, despite being initially shocked by the invasion. “The best and bravest stayed. But they aren’t getting what they need to do their job.”

With anger growing at what was supposed to be a quick, surgical operation to destroy Ukraine’s sovereignty, it’s not clear where the fingers will be pointed next. Putin has already dismissed several commanders, while many more have died either in the field or under mysterious circumstances. Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu has virtually vanished from public amid growing failures, and few of his inner circle rivals could envy taking over his job.

What is clear, though, is that Ukraine’s armed forces are better trained, better equipped and better motivated, wielding Western and domestically-made weaponry with devastating effect. While the Russians strike at power stations and let loose dozens of cheap Iranian drones over populated areas, Kyiv has its sights firmly set on beating back the Russians and making their country the most dangerous place in the world to be an enemy soldier.

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