At least 51 people have been killed and six wounded in a Russian missile attack on a northeastern village, Ukrainian officials say.
Oleh Syniehubov, governor of the Kharkiv region, said the afternoon strike on Thursday hit a cafe and a store in the village of Hroza, about 30km (20 miles) west of the front-line town of Kupiansk, with many civilians present at the time of the attack.
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He added that a six-year-old child was among the dead.
Interior Minister Ihor Klymenko said residents of the village of about 330 people had been holding a memorial service in the cafe that was struck.
“From every family, from every household, there were people present at this commemoration. This is a terrible tragedy,” Klymenko told Ukrainian television.
There was no immediate comment by Russia, which in the past has denied hitting civilian targets.
The attack was the deadliest in the Kharkiv region since Russia’s invasion began more than 19 months ago, a regional official told public broadcaster Suspilne. It appeared to be one of the biggest civilian death tolls in any single Russian strike.
‘Deliberate terrorist attack’
Footage released by Ukrainian authorities showed rescue workers sifting through piles of rubble and bodies coated in dust laid out next to the site of the attack.
Klymenko cited preliminary information that he said showed the attack was carried out with an Iskander ballistic missile.
“The terrorists deliberately carried out the attack during lunchtime to ensure a maximum number of casualties,” Defence Minister Rustem Umerov said.
“There were no military targets there. This is a heinous crime intended to scare Ukrainians.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who was attending a summit with European leaders in Spain, said: “Russian terror should be stopped.”
I’ve just visited Kharkiv, the city of 1.2 million people. Border with Russia is less than 40 km away. Less than 3 minutes for a S-300 missile. Russia terrorizes the city with them and has already destroyed thousands of houses, schools, universities, power plants, and transport.
— Volodymyr Zelenskyy / Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) October 5, 2023
Zelenskyy called on Western countries to redouble their support for Ukraine’s war effort and air defence systems.
A spokesman for the head of the United Nations said he “strongly condemns” the attack.
“Attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure are prohibited under international humanitarian law, and they must stop immediately,” Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said in a statement.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk said in a message posted by his office on the social media platform X, formerly Twitter, that he was “shocked and saddened” by the attack.
“Our human rights monitors will visit the site to gather information. Accountability is key,” he said.
Maria Adeeva, the research director at the European Expert Association in Ukraine, said the Hroza attack was “clearly deliberate”.
“Russians knew that all those people were there, and they precisely attacked this building,” Adeeva told Al Jazeera. “This strike was so huge that from what we know now, only 30 bodies are being able to be identified from 51 people killed so that means that 20 bodies still aren’t identified,” she said.