Russian strike kills 51 gathered for wake in east Ukraine

AFP , Thursday 5 Oct 2023

A Russian strike killed at least 51 people gathered for a wake in an eastern Ukrainian village Thursday, in what a UN official called a "horrifying" attack.

Ukraine attack
In this photo provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, firefighters work to extinguish a fire after a deadly Russian rocket attack that killed at least 51 people in the village of Groza, some 30 kilometres west of Kupiansk, on October 5, 2023. AP


AFP journalists on the scene in the aftermath saw rescuers carrying a corpse from the rubble and several charred bodies in civilian clothes lying side by side, and others in white body bags.

The mourners were in a cafe and there were also victims in a shop in the same building in the village, which has a population of 330 people, in the northeastern region of Kharkiv.

Volodymyr Mukhovaty, 70, said he had lost his son in the attack, and was still looking for his wife and daughter-in-law, who had attended the funeral reception.

"My son was just found without a head, without arms, without legs, without anything. They recognised him from his documents," he told AFP.

He had "little hope" of seeing his daughter-in-law or wife again but was watching rescue workers from a distance in case they were found.

"I lived with my wife for 48 years," he told AFP. "I will not last long alone."

There were piles of body parts next to two children's swings nearby while under flood lights, rescuers were still digging through the rubble of what was left of the cafe.

Six-year-old victim

A six-year-old child was among the victims, said Interior Minister Igor Klymenko, who added that a total of 60 people had been attending a "memorial service for a deceased fellow villager.

Groza is located more than 30 kilometres (18 miles) from the frontline town of Kupiansk in an area where Russian forces have been pushing to recapture territory they lost to Ukrainian troops last year.

Klymenko said initial evidence showed an Iskander missile had been used.

"The search and rescue operation is ongoing," Klymenko said. "There may still be people under the rubble."

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who was attending a European summit in Spain, condemned the attack on social media.

Zelensky posted an image of a woman kneeling over the body of someone apparently killed in the strike, with other corpses around her.

He called the strike "completely deliberate" and said it was a "brutal Russian crime".

Defence Minister Rustem Umerov said Ukraine needed more air defence "to protect our country from terror".

"We are discussing this with partners," he wrote on social media, repeating Ukrainian calls for more protection against the daily barrages of drone and missile strikes.

Denise Brown, Ukraine coordinator for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), also condemned the alleged Russian strike.

Brown said she was "appalled", adding that the images from the scene of the strike were "absolutely horrifying".

"Intentionally directing an attack against civilians or civilian objects is a war crime," she said in a statement.

'True evil'

A spokeswoman for the regional assembly quoted by Ukrainian media said it was the single most deadly attack since the start of the war in Ukraine on February 24, 2022.

The head of the Kharkiv region Oleg Sinegubov said the strike took place around 1:15 pm (1015 GMT).

Regional authorities had recently ordered mandatory evacuations in the area after an uptick in Russian strikes.

Large swathes of the Kharkiv region were captured by Russian forces in the early days of their offensive launched in February last year.

Ukrainian forces recaptured much of the border territory during a lightning offensive late last year, but the regional capital, also called Kharkiv, still comes to regular shelling.

Zelensky's advisor Mykhailo Podolyak said the attack had "no military logic".

"This is a reminder to anyone who is willing to smile and shake hands with war criminal Putin at international conferences," he said, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"A reminder to all those who want to sell something to Russia and return to bloody business as usual," he said, adding: "Putin's Russia is a true evil".

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