Three children were among the victims of a Russian missile attack on Kramatorsk city in eastern Ukraine that has killed at least eight people and injured dozens more, officials said.
Russia fired two S-300 surface-to-air missiles at the city on Tuesday evening, authorities said, with one missile hitting the popular Ria Pizza restaurant in the city centre. A second missile struck a village on the fringes of the city, injuring five.
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“As of 07:00 (04:00 GMT) on June 28, the bodies of eight dead people (including three children, two of them born in 2008 and 2011)” were removed from beneath “the rubble of the destroyed cafe building”, the State Emergency Service of Ukraine said on Telegram.
Ukraine’s interior ministry also confirmed one of the bodies pulled from the ruins of the restaurant was a teenager, while a baby was among the 47 who were injured.
The restaurant was hit just before 8pm local time (17:00 GMT) when many people were eating dinner.
Emergency services rushed to the scene. Photos showed twisted metal and piles of rubble with rescuers using cranes and other equipment to get to those trapped inside and dozens of volunteers working alongside them.
“There were a lot of people in there — there are children under the rubble,” Yevgen, who had been dining with two friends told the AFP news agency.
“We were just about to leave,” he said, but one of his friends was now “under the rubble”.
In tears, a witness Natalia said her half-brother Nikita, 23, was trapped inside. “They can’t get him out, he was covered” by debris, she said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in his nightly video message that the attacks showed that Russia “deserved only one thing as a consequence of what it has done — defeat and a tribunal”.
Kramatorsk was one home to about 150,000 people and is about 30km (18 miles) west of the front lines in Donetsk province. The city has been a frequent target of Russian attacks, including a raid on its railway station in April 2022 that killed 63 people.
Russia denies that it targets civilian sites.
‘Squashed like a bug’
The attack came amid the continuing fallout from the Wagner mutiny with the leader of the mercenary force, Yevgeny Prigozhin, arriving in neighbouring Belarus, according to President Alexander Lukashenko.
Prigozhin, 62, said he launched the mutiny to save his armed group after being ordered to place it under the command of the defence ministry, which he has cast as ineffectual in its conduct of the war in Ukraine.
His fighters ended their campaign on Saturday to avert bloodshed after nearly reaching Moscow in a convoy of tanks.
Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus with an iron hand for 29 years while relying on Russian subsidies and support, portrayed the uprising as the latest development in the clash between Prigozhin and Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu.
He said he had told Prigozhin he would be “squashed like a bug” if he tried to attack Moscow, and warned the Kremlin would never agree to his demands to remove Shoigu and his top generals.
A plane linked to Prigozhin was shown on a flight tracking service taking off from the southern Russian city of Rostov early Tuesday and landing in Belarus.
Lukashenko said his country would accommodate Wagner fighters who wanted to go there.
“We offered them one of the abandoned military bases. Please – we have a fence, we have everything – put up your tents,” Lukashenko was quoted by the state-run news agency BELTA.
Could be a trap?
Russian authorities said on Tuesday they closed a criminal investigation into the aborted armed rebellion led by Prigozhin and would press no charges against him or his troops.
The Federal Security Service, or FSB, said its investigation found those involved in the mutiny, which lasted less than 24 hours, “ceased activities directed at committing the crime,” so the case would not be pursued.
It was the latest twist in a series of stunning events that have brought the gravest threat so far to President Vladimir Putin’s grip on power following Moscow’s full scale invasion of Ukraine 16 months ago.
In a military ceremony, Putin told about 2,500 Russian security personnel the people and the armed forces stood together in opposition to the rebel mercenaries. “You have saved our motherland from upheaval. In fact, you have stopped a civil war,” he said.
Putin was joined by Shoigu whose dismissal had been one of the mutineers’ main demands.
He also praised Wagner troops’ actions in Ukraine and credited those who “didn’t engage in fratricidal bloodshed and stopped on the brink”.
That was “likely in an effort to retain them” in the fight in Ukraine because Moscow needs “trained and effective manpower” as it faces a Ukrainian counteroffensive, according to a Washington-based think tank.
The Institute for the Study of War also noted the break between Putin and Prigozhin was probably beyond repair, and providing the Wagner chief and his loyalists with Belarus as an apparent safe haven could be a trap.