Evidence Suggests Ukrainian Missiles Caused Market Tragedy | ET REALITY

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The September 6 missile attack on Kostiantynivka in eastern Ukraine was one of the deadliest in the country in months, killing at least 15 civilians and wounding more than 30. The payload of metal fragments from the gun hit a market, went through windows and walls and injured some victims beyond recognition.

Less than two hours later, President Volodymyr Zelensky blamed Russian “terrorists” for the attack and many media outlets Following suit. Throughout its invasion of Ukraine, Russia has repeatedly and systematically targeted civilians and attacked schools, markets and residences as a deliberate tactic to instill fear in the population. In April, in Kostiantynivka, houses and a preschool were bombed, killing six people.

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

The attack appears to have been a tragic mishap. Air defense experts say missiles like the one that hit the market can go astray for a variety of reasons, including electronic malfunction or a guide fin that is damaged or cut at the time of launch.

The likely missile failure occurred amid the back-and-forth battles common in the surrounding area. russian forces shelled Kostiantynivka the night before; Ukrainian artillery fire from the city was reported in a local Telegram group a few minutes before the market strike.

A spokesman for Ukraine’s armed forces said the country’s security service is investigating the incident and cannot comment further under national law.

Ukrainian authorities initially attempted to prevent Times journalists from accessing the missile wreckage and impact area immediately after the attack. But journalists were finally able to reach the scene, interview witnesses and collect remains of the weapon used.

Security camera footage shows that the missile flew toward Kostiantynivka from the direction of Ukrainian-controlled territory, not from behind Russian lines.

When the sound of the approaching missile is heard, at least four pedestrians appear to simultaneously turn their heads toward the incoming sound. They are facing the camera, towards Ukrainian-controlled territory. Moments before impact, the missile’s reflection is visible as it passes over two parked cars, showing it traveling from the northwest.

The missile’s warhead detonates a few meters above the ground shortly before impact, sending metal fragments outward. The resulting crater and damage extending from the detonation point are consistent with a missile coming from a northwesterly route, according to an explosives expert and a Times analysis.

Further evidence reveals that minutes before the attack, the Ukrainian military launched two surface-to-air missiles toward the Russian front line from the town of Druzhkivka, 10 miles northwest of Kostiantynivka.

The Times journalists were in Druzhkivka when they heard a missile launch at 2:00 p.m., followed a few minutes later by a second. By chance, a team member recorded the first pitch in a voicemail.

Residents of Druzhkivka also reported in a local Telegram group about an outgoing launch at that time. “One more,” said a post at 2:03 p.m., referring to a second missile launch. Locals near the launches described them as abnormally loud (beyond the sounds of war they have become accustomed to) and listened closely. Witness accounts of previous Buk launches.

The timing of these releases is consistent with the time frame by the missile that hit the Kostiantynivka market, around 2:04 p.m.

Additionally, two witnesses who spoke to The Times said they saw missiles fired from Druzhkivka in the direction of the Russian front line at the time of the attack; One of them said that he saw the missiles heading towards Kostiantynivka. A Ukrainian soldier stationed in Druzhkivka, who asked to remain anonymous, also said that he heard two missile launches at around the same time.

One of the witnesses also said the missiles were launched from fields on the outskirts of the city, a location that residents say is used by the Ukrainian military and from which they had previously seen air defense missiles.

Times reporters who visited the site saw signs that it had recently been used by the military, including trenches, garbage pits and wide roads compatible with a large military vehicle.

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

After the attack, the 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 attack 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 pockmarked with hundreds of square or rectangular holes, probably made by cube-shaped objects thrown outward by the missile.

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

Some of the 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 wide.

A Times reporter also reviewed other missile fragments recovered from multiple locations in Ukraine that had been fired by Russian S-300, S-400 and Buk air defense systems, as well as two different American air defense systems. Its shapes and measurements show that the damage on the market was probably caused by a 9M38.

Two independent military bomb disposal experts, who asked to remain anonymous so they could speak candidly, reached the same conclusion, saying the fragments and damage at the attack site are more 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 in the market shows that the missile came from that direction.

Why does the missile, which has a maximum range of just over 17 miles, it may have landed at Kostiantynivka, although it is not clear, although it is possible that it failed and crashed before reaching its intended target.

In any case, at such a short range (less than 10 miles), the missile most likely landed with unspent fuel in its rocket motorthat would detonate or burn on impact, offering a possible explanation for the widespread burn marks on the market.

Julian E. Barnes contributed reporting from Washington, DC, and Aric Toler from New York. Storyful’s Rob McDonagh contributed additional research.

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