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Evidence suggests Ukrainian missiles caused market tragedy

The September 6 missile strike on Kostiantynivka in eastern Ukraine was one of the deadliest in the country in months, killing at least 15 civilians and injuring more than 30 others. The weapon’s payload of metal fragments hit a bargain, piercing windows and walls and injuring some victims beyond recognition.

Less than two hours later, President Volodymyr Zelensky blamed the attack on Russian “terrorists,” and many media outlets followed suit. Throughout its invasion of Ukraine, Russia repeatedly and systematically attacked civilians and struck schools, markets and residences in a deliberate tactic aimed at instilling fear in the population. In Kostiantynivka in April, they bombed houses and a kindergarten, killing six people.

But evidence collected and analyzed by The New York Times, including missile fragments, satellite images, eyewitness accounts and social media posts, strongly suggests that the catastrophic strike was the result of an errant Ukrainian air defense missile fired by a Buk launch system.

The attack appears to have been a tragic accident. Air defense experts say missiles like the one hitting the market can veer off course for a variety of reasons, including electronic malfunction or a damaged or sheared guide fin during launch.

The missile’s likely failure occurred amid frequent fighting in the surrounding region. Russian forces shelled Kostiantynivka the previous night; Ukrainian artillery fire from the town was reported by a local Telegram group just minutes before the attack on the market.

A spokesman for Ukraine’s armed forces said the country’s security services were investigating the incident and under national law could not make further comments.

Ukrainian authorities initially tried to prevent Times journalists from accessing the missile debris and the impact zone immediately after the strike. But journalists were finally able to go to the site, interview witnesses and recover the remains of the weapon used.

Security camera footage shows that the missile landed on Kostiantynivka from Ukrainian-controlled territory, not from behind Russian lines.

As the sound of the approaching missile is heard, at least four pedestrians appear to simultaneously turn their heads toward the incoming sound. They face the camera, towards territory under Ukrainian control. Moments before its strike, the missile’s reflection is visible as it passes over two parked cars, showing it coming from the northwest.

The missile’s warhead exploded a few meters above the ground shortly before impact, projecting metal fragments outwards. The resulting crater and damage extending from the detonation point are consistent with a missile coming from a northwest highway, according to an explosives expert and a Times analysis.

Other evidence reveals that minutes before the strike, the Ukrainian military launched two surface-to-air missiles toward the Russian front line from the town of Druzhkivka, 16 kilometers northwest of Kostiantynivka.

Times journalists were in Druzhkivka when they heard a missile strike at 2 p.m., followed a few minutes later by a second. By chance, a team member recorded the first launch in a voicemail.

Druzhkivka residents also reported an outgoing launch around this time on a local Telegram group. “One more,” said a message posted at 2:03 p.m., referring to a second missile launch. Residents near the launches described them as unusually loud – beyond the sounds of war they have become accustomed to – consistent with accounts of past Buk launches.

The timing of these launches is consistent with that of the missile which hit the Kostiantynivka market, around 2:04 p.m.

Additionally, two witnesses who spoke to the Times said they saw the missiles being fired from Druzhkivka toward the Russian front line at the time of the strike; one of them said he saw the missiles heading towards Kostiantynivka. A Ukrainian soldier stationed in Druzhkivka, who asked to remain anonymous, also said he heard two missile shots around the same time.

One of the witnesses also said that the missiles were launched from fields on the outskirts of the city, a place that residents say is used by the Ukrainian army and from where they have seen missiles before air defense.

Times journalists who visited the site saw indications that it had recently been used by the military, including trenches, waste pits and wide tracks worthy of a large military vehicle.

Another key indicator: burn marks. Various ground-launched air defense missiles are fired from the rear of a large vehicle and burn the surrounding turf when fired. Analysis of before and after satellite images shows new scorch marks around the trenches on the day of the attack, possibly indicating the site was used to launch missiles.

In the aftermath of the attack, Ukrainian authorities Russian forces said used a missile fired by an S-300 air defense system, which Russia has used both to intercept aircraft and to strike ground targets. But an S-300 missile carries a different warhead than the one that exploded at Kostiantynivka.

The metal facades of the buildings closest to the explosion were perforated with hundreds of square or rectangular holes, probably made by cubic objects thrown outwards by the missile.

The measurements of the holes – and fragments found at the scene – correspond in size and shape to a particular weapon: the 9M38 missile, fired by the Buk mobile anti-aircraft vehicle. Ukraine is known to use the Buk system, as is Russia.

Some holes are less than 10 millimeters wide, while others are slightly larger. The 9M38 contains two different sizes of cubic fragments of solid metal: eight millimeters and 13 millimeters in diameter.

A Times reporter also examined other missile fragments recovered from several locations in Ukraine that had been fired by Russian S-300, S-400 and Buk air defense systems, as well as two U.S. air defense systems different. Their shapes and dimensions show that the damage on the market site was most likely caused by a 9M38.

Two independent military bomb disposal experts, who asked to remain anonymous so they could speak candidly, came to the same conclusion and said the fragments and damage at the strike site are most consistent with a 9M38.

Several witnesses heard or saw Ukrainian forces firing surface-to-air missiles from Druzhkivka towards Kostiantynivka at the time of the market strike. And evidence collected from the market shows that the missile was coming from that direction.

It is unclear why the missile, which has a maximum range of just over 27 kilometers, was able to land at Kostiantynivka – although it is possible that it malfunctioned and was crushed before reaching its target.

Regardless, at such a short range – less than 10 miles – the missile most likely landed with unspent fuel in its rocket engine, which would explode or burn on impact, offering a possible explanation for the markings. widespread burns at the missile level. walk.

Julian E. Barnes contributed reporting from Washington, D.C., and Aric Toler from New York. Additional research was carried out by Storyful’s Rob McDonagh.

nytimes Eur

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