At least nine people have been killed and dozens of others injured after two Russian missiles – 40 minutes apart – hit a residential building in the eastern Ukrainian city of Pokrovsk on Monday, August 7.
Many of the dead and wounded are emergency workers attending the scene of the first explosion, a deliberate attack strategy often used by Moscow’s forces known as a “double-tap.”
What is a double-tap?
The double-tap strike is a military tactic in which a specific location is targeted with two separate attacks: an initial strike followed by a second strike after a short period of time.
The first strike serves to hit the target area and cause initial destruction. The second strike, which occurs shortly after the first, aims to target individuals who rush to the scene to provide aid or assess the situation after the initial attack: emergency responders, medical personnel, journalists, and bystanders who are drawn to the site to assist those affected by the initial strike.
Is it legal?
Absolutely not – regardless of whether the first strike targeted a legitimate target or not (and a residential building in a city is not a legitimate military target), the second strike is deliberately aimed at first responders and as such contrary to the Geneva Conventions
Has Russia employed this strategy before?
Yes. The double-tap strategy is not new to Vladimir Putin's warfare playbook.
Over the past 12 years in Syria, various military strategies have been employed, including harsh methods like besieging cities and the use of chemical weapons. No method has been left off the table, including the double-tap strikes.
The Syria Justice and Accountability Centre (SJAC) investigated the usage patterns of this tactic. Their findings indicate that these double-tap strikes were carried out with the intention of causing harm to civilians and objects protected by international humanitarian law rather than solely targeting “identifiable enemies.”
This method aims to instill fear and suppress opposition sentiments among civilians – a form of "shock and awe."
Three main criteria were used to determine if such a strike had occurred – the initial strike location, the arrival of first responders or civilians afterwards, and at least one subsequent attack on the same location within an hour.
Based on these criteria, SJAC identified 58 instances of double-tap strikes from 2013 to 2021 across Syria. These incidents mainly occurred in residential areas outside government-controlled territories, leading to civilian casualties, including women and children, as well as first responders.
Calculating the exact number of casualties from Syrian and Russian airstrikes throughout the conflict is challenging due to their frequent occurrence and extensive destruction.
How many times did Russia employ this strategy in Ukraine?
The exact count of double-tap strikes during the full-scale war in Ukraine remains unavailable due to the intensity of Russian attacks, particularly in territories near the frontline and reachable by artillery shells.
But there are some notable confirmed examples:
March 1, 2022
Back on March 1, 2022, Russian forces launched a missile attack on a government building in Kharkiv's Freedom Square. A little while later, when rescuers were trying to help the people inside, another rocket hit the same building.
This incident resulted in the death of at least ten people, and many more got hurt. Zelensky called it a "war crime" and "state terrorism."
April 17, 2022
Jumping ahead to April 17, 2022, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) reported another accident in Kharkiv involving a double-tap attack.
ABC's team was following a local Red Cross unit when Russian missiles hit a building nearby. After the Red Cross workers, paramedics, and Ukrainian troops rushed in to help, another missile struck the same building again.
This incident led to the deaths of five people on that day, as ABC reported.
July 21, 2023
On July 21, 2023, Russian forces carried out another, the fourth consecutive attack in the Odesa region. They targeted grain terminals using cruise missiles.
Natalia Humeniuk, the spokeswoman for the Operational Command "South", said Russia fired two rounds of missiles one after the other, calling it a "double tap."
August 3, 2023
On August 3, 2023, Russian forces launched multiple attacks on Kherson early in the morning, which resulted in seven people getting wounded.
The first attack hit a church in the middle of Kherson. Unfortunately, three people on a trolley bus passing by the church when the attack happened were injured. They were taken to the hospital in an ambulance.
While the rescuers were trying to take the fire in the church under control, the Russians started shelling again.
‼️ In #Kherson, the Catherine's Cathedral came under Russian fire, Ukraine’s Ministry of Internal Affairs reported.— KyivPost (@KyivPost) August 3, 2023
The Russian also hit a bus that was taking people to work. Three passengers were wounded.
📷: State Emergency Service pic.twitter.com/CeRauwG0GL
Additionally, four employees of the DSNS were injured, and specialized equipment was also damaged. All the victims have been hospitalized, and doctors are providing them with the necessary medical assistance.
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