At least 60 Russian soldiers are reported to have been killed or wounded by friendly fire as they made a hasty retreat from the village of Opytne, close to Donetsk’s Sergey Prokofiev International Airport in eastern Ukraine.

The claim was originally made by Yuriy Mysiagin, a Ukrainian member of parliament, in a Telegram message on Sept. 10, which was later confirmed by Russian milbloggers and other Ukrainian sources.

Mysiagin said that Russian fighters had been “retreating to new positions chaotically and almost in a panic.” 

He said that other Russian forces had mistaken their troops for Ukrainians attempting to recapture territory near the airport. The hurried exit resulted in the troops coming under fire from their own artillery.

“The result was 27 dead and 34 wounded. Approximately half of the wounded had their arms or legs blown off and several pieces of equipment were lost,” he said.

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The pro-Kremlin bloggers confirmed the incident saying that 200 or so Russian troops around the village of Optyne were retreating to “more favorable positions,” as Ukrainian forces were overwhelming their defenses around the village. 

One blogger said “Unfortunately, not everyone retreated clearly and harmoniously. Some of the fighters retreated to new positions chaotically and almost in panic.

“As a result, a tragedy occurred, our soldiers died … [by] the fire of their own artillery.”

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A Ukrainian Colonel, Konstantyn Mashovets, corroborated the event in a detailed account of what had occurred in a Facebook post. He said that a combination of panic and poor coordination among the Russians caused the debacle.

“For some unknown reason, the enemy artillery began to fire, not near the front line or behind Ukrainian positions in order to suppress our firepower, but on the positions occupied by this unit,” Mashovets said in the post on Sept. 10. 

Ukrainian forces, aided by the friendly fire incident were able to advance through the village and onwards towards Pisky, a village to the southwest of Opytne.

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While Kremlin spokesmen maintain that Moscow’s forces are launching counterattacks against Opytne, they are making little progress as the village is cut off from the Russian front line by a river.

Lack of training as conscripted Russian troops are rushed to the battlefield has been widely blamed for several instances of friendly fire against their own troops.

An Aug 14 report in the New York Times quoted a serviceman from Ukraine's 129th Territorial Defense Brigade with the callsign “Kherson” who had witnessed Russians firing on their own forces near the village of Neskuchne, a village retaken from the Russians in June.

“The Russians attempted counterattacks, tried to squeeze us out, to encircle us but everything happened as we envisioned… as the Russian troops began to retreat, Russian forces fired rockets at the battlefield, killing their own men,” Kherson said. “They buried quite a lot of their own guys on that day.” 

An ISW report in November quotes the former Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) Security Minister, Aleksandr Khodakovsky, claiming that Russian friendly fire may have caused up to 60 percent of total Russian casualties between May and November 2022.

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