A Russian military strike hit a grocery store and adjacent cafe in Ukraine’s Kharkiv region on Thursday killing 51 people according to preliminary accounts.
It happened during lunch hour when some 60 residents of the 330-person village of Hroza had been present, most of them gathered for a wake, Ukraine's Minister of Internal Affairs Ihor Klymenko said.
Images from the scene showed a reinforced concrete and brick structure that had collapsed on itself, and single-story buildings leveled to the ground. Some photographs showed male and female corpses, uncovered, laid out next to an asphalt road.
Firefighters and other rescue workers were shown picking through debris in search of survivors.
Among the dead was a six-year-old girl, Klymenko wrote on Telegram.
Russian missile struck an ordinary grocery store in the Kupiansk district of the Kharkiv region. This was a fully deliberate, demonstrative, and brutal terrorist attack.— Volodymyr Zelenskyy / Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) October 5, 2023
As of now, more than 51 people have been reported dead. My condolences to all those who have lost their loved… pic.twitter.com/yxIW2Xwy35
According to Klymenko, seven people had been seriously injured and were on operating tables but one did not survive.
Klymenko, who spoke earlier on television, said that law enforcement had managed to identify 29 bodies, and the other bodies were being sent to expert institutions in Kharkiv.
Klymenko said there may yet be people under the rubble.
Due to the small size of the building that was hit, Klymenko said that Ukrainian intelligence and police are suspicious that there may have been an artillery spotter among the local people who provided the Russians with attack coordinates.
The minister said that according to preliminary information, the village was hit by an Iskander missile.
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."
President Volodymyr Zelensky in a statement called the strike a terrorist attack and called on allies to help Ukraine stop Kremlin assaults on the Ukrainian civilian population.
“Russian terror must be stopped. Everyone who helps Russia circumvent sanctions is a criminal. Everyone who still supports Russia supports evil,” Zelensky said.
Hroza is a village about 30 kilometers (around 20 miles) west of the frontline town of Kupiansk.
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.
Russian state-controlled media has long pushed the narrative that the Kremlin’s forces only hit military targets and that civilian casualties in Ukraine are unfortunate collateral damage. Including bombardments of frontline Ukrainian villages, civilian casualties to Russian fire usually average between 50-200 people a month.
In recent months, the most common system used by the Russian military to hit homes and businesses in Ukraine’s northeastern Kharkiv region has been S-300 anti-aircraft missiles modified as surface bombardment weapons.
The bloodiest single Russian attack causing Ukrainian civilian casualties took place on April 8, 2022, when Russian strike planners fired two surface-to-surface Iksandr ballistic missiles that hit the main train station in the east Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk, killing 63 people and injuring more than 100.
Russian President Vladimir Putin from the outset of his country’s now 18-month-old invasion of Ukraine has repeatedly called on the Ukrainian national leadership to cease resistance and surrender, to save Ukraine’s civilian population.
Ukrainian public opinion throughout the war has shown little inclination to submit. Overwhelmingly, Ukrainians hit by Russian bombs or missiles blame the Kremlin for the attacks, and not their own government.
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 invasion 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 leader 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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