The Ukrainian military has denied launching a missile attack on the separatist-controlled city of Donetsk, after the Russian defence ministry said that 23 civilians had been killed in a Ukrainian missile attack. Russia said that the Tochka-U missile had also wounded 28 people in the eastern Ukrainian city in what it described as a “war crime”.
Earlier on Monday, a local separatist leader had told Russia’s TASS news agency that a Tochka-U missile had been intercepted over the rebel stronghold, but that parts of it had landed in the city centre.
Denis Pushilin, the head of the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic”, said residential areas were damaged.
“People were waiting in line near an ATM and were standing at a bus stop,” he told the Rossiya 24 network. “There are children among the dead,” Pushilin added.
However, the Ukrainian military has been quick to deny the attack.
“It is unmistakably a Russian rocket or another munition, there’s not even any point talking about it,” Ukrainian military spokesman Leonid Matyukhin told a televised briefing.
Asked about reports of a Ukrainian attack on Donetsk, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it was a tragedy.
Both the death toll and the incident could not be independently verified. The territory has been controlled by pro-Russia rebels since 2014.
Reports of the attack came as Ukrainian and Russian negotiators met for a fourth round of talks since Russia invaded its neighbouring country on February 24. The talks ended after several hours without a breakthrough.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has said the objective of his war in Ukraine, which he has dubbed a “special military operation”, is the “demilitarisation and denazification” of the Ukrainian government.
He claims Kyiv has been carrying out a “genocide” against the Russian-speaking population of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, collectively known as the Donbas, where the Ukrainian army has been fighting Russia-backed separatists since 2014. Ukraine denies the allegation.
The conflict, which erupted after rebels seized parts of the Donbas and self-declared the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, has killed more than 14,000 people, including soldiers, civilians and rebel fighters.