Russia fired two short-range Iskander ballistic missiles at the city of Kramatorsk on the evening of June 27. One hit the popular Ria Pizza restaurant killing 12 people, including four children and restaurant staff, as well as injuring more than 60. 

The city has been a frequent target of Russian attacks, including the notorious strike on the town's railway station in April 2022 that killed 63 people.

During the early days of Russia’s full-scale invasion,Kramatorsk was astride Moscow’s main western axis of advance. Since that was repelled, the city doesn’t seem to have any obvious strategic value. It therefore begs the question – how did it end up on the occupiers’ priority list?

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On June 28, the Russian defense ministry claimed that the target hit in Kramatorsk was a “temporary command post” of the Ukrainian army. Given that nearly all the casualties from the previous day’s attack were civilians, that was obviously nonsenseHowever, a recent article in Britain’s Daily Telegraph suggests that the selection of the city as a target may have been aimed at hitting more than justcivilian morale.

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R&R destination

Kramatorsk, being the nearest city to Ukraine’s eastern front lines, has become the most popular destination for soldiers when released for a period of rest and recuperation (R&R). With time at a premium, soldiers might otherwise spend three or more days of their precious rest time traveling to and from home, so it becomes much more time-efficient to rendezvous with their partners in Kramatorsk. 

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Almost every day of the week, trains arrive from Kyiv carrying wives and girlfriends who have come to meet their loved ones. They take the chance to be together for a couple of days, sometimes just a few hoursnever knowing if it could be for the last time.

Romance is alive and kicking in the city and many engagedcouples take the opportunity to get married at the local registry office. The Daily Telegraph quotes Maxim Slyvna, 27, of the 32nd Separate Infantry Battalion, who said that he and his fiancée, Iryna, “… were planning to get married after the war, but these are dangerous times, so we’ve decided to get married now.”  

Queues of soldiers can be seen outside florists just before the trains arrive from Kyiv. Patriotic blue and yellow bouquets are especially popular, as are cuddly toysadorned with romantic slogans. 

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Advertisements for apartments can be seen all over the city offering rental by the day or hour. Even single soldiers are not neglected as a number of ladies offer a 50 percentdiscount to serving troops for the pleasure of their company.

The main downsides are a ban on alcohol sales due to the city’s proximity to the front line, as well as a 9 p.m. curfew. But those restrictions probably don’t bother most couplesduring brief time spent together.

Popular restaurant for soldiers

It seems that the Ria pizza restaurant was a favorite place for soldiers and their partners; local families and individuals from humanitarian NGOs; and other internationals working in the area, including the media.

British newspaper The Guardian reported that several foreign photographers and correspondents were having dinner when the missile hit. Ukrainian author Victoria Amelina, who was also having a meal in the restaurant, was critically injured in the strike.

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A nearby shopping centeroften frequented by troops during breaks from the fightingas well as several other nearby eateries, were damaged by the resulting blast from the missile.

In the wake of the June 27 attack, Ukraine’s security service, the SBU, later arrested a local resident who allegedly pointed out the restaurant as being popular with Ukrainian soldiers. It transpires he had sent video footage of the restaurant and the surrounding area to the Russian military, which helped to coordinate the strike. 

The potential presence of the Ukraine military could therefore have been used by the Russians to attempt to justify this barbaric attack – not that they have felt the need to justify many of the other thousands of missile strikescarried out against civilian objects since the full-scale invasion began.

As a result of the attack, military members indicating they intend to go to Kramatorsk for their R&R are receiving additional security briefings, including advice to avoid popular restaurants and other entertainment areas

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It seems likely that the need for couples to spend what little time they have together will not dissuade them from meeting up in Kramatorsk.

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