Hroza missile attack in Ukraine killed mourning family | ET REALITY

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Wreaths and a yellow and blue Ukrainian flag still adorned the freshly cut grave in a village cemetery.

The words written on decorative ribbons still expressed the pain of the wife, children, uncles and aunts.

All of those relatives, just a day later, would soon be placed in their own graves a few dozen meters away.

They were among at least 52 people killed by a missile that hit the wake of a Ukrainian soldier, Andriy Kozyr, in the village of Hroza in eastern Ukraine on Thursday. In an instant, the missile wiped out all known members of the soldier’s immediate family in the area.

Even by the standards of Russia’s war in Ukraine, in which missile, artillery and rocket attacks routinely kill a dozen or more people, the attack on the village of Hroza stood out as one of the deadliest attacks in the war. war, killing a high proportion of a small community.

The United Nations estimates that Russian strikes have killed or wounded more than 25,000 civilians, and the weekly civilian casualty count in Ukraine is often higher than the losses in Hroza. But 19 months after the Russian invasion, the deaths of one or two often pass off as private tragedies for families, rather than calamities on the scale of an entire city.

Like other affected sites in Ukraine, residents of the village were left searching for answers about why their community center had been attacked and how they could help each other cope. Some were also paranoid about whether a possible Russian spy was among them and had called the attack.

On Friday, rescuers sifted through the rubble for body fragments from the explosion and picked them up on stretchers. Well-wishers had laid flowers and votive candles were burning nearby.

Scattered around the scene of the attack were remains from the wake ceremony: a dress shoe, a handkerchief, abandoned jackets and purses.

Police officers collected mobile phones, wallets, watches and other valuables in plastic bags to give to their families, if any survived.

The village had a population of 330 people, according to a census, but a municipal employee said its wartime population had dropped to about 150, meaning the community lost between a third and a sixth of its inhabitants. in Thursday’s attack.

“Everyone died,” said one resident, Petro Krasevych. He pointed out several houses on a street that, he said, were left ownerless because of the strike. “Now it’s an empty house with a cow.”

Krasevych turned to his faith to keep going, he said.

He and his wife were friends of the dead soldier’s family and had planned to attend the wake. His wife, however, had recently been diagnosed with cancer, a misfortune that he believed had saved their lives. They had been on a date at the hospital during the wake. “God protected us,” he said.

The town is only 40 kilometers from the front line, and paranoia about Russian spies has also arisen there. Police, Krasevych said, went house to house asking if any residents might have informed the Russians about a wake for a soldier. “I don’t know what kind of person would kill his neighbors,” Krasevych said.

The strike occurred when relatives, friends and neighbors of the Kozyr family were sitting down to eat in a cafe in the town. Among the dead was a six-year-old boy, a regional governor said. When workers reached the bottom of the pile of rubble on Friday, four people (two adults and two children) were still missing and only genetic testing of the fragments could determine whether they had died in the cafe, regional police said on Facebook.

In a late-night speech Thursday, President Volodymyr Zelensky appeared to struggle to find words to denounce the attack. To call it “beastly,” he said, would be an affront to beasts.

“It was not a blind attack. People had gathered there for a memorial meal, a Christian memorial meal. Who could launch a missile at them? “Who?” she asked.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitri S. Peskov repeated a denial Friday that the Russian military attacks civilian targets, although the attack fits a long-standing pattern of Russian missile attacks on civilian centers.

In Hroza, the missile killed at least a dozen residents on one street, Samarska Street, according to residents who pointed to house after house that had lost inhabitants.

Anatoly Horbenko, 26, a tractor driver, said he had rushed to the cafe to help the injured and what he saw was so disturbing that he did not sleep Thursday. People who had lost many family members stood outside the cafe in shock, he said. “I just want it all to end,” he said of the violence in his village and the war.

Early Friday, less than a day after the strike, workers were already busy building an expansion to the village cemetery, leveling about an acre of land with backhoes to accommodate the new graves.

Anticipating the rush of burials, one family had reserved a spot with duct tape, wooden stakes and the names of those who would be buried there, Mykola and Tetyana Androsovich.

“Each of us knew someone who had died, a godfather, a sister, a brother,” said Volodymyr Shudravy, a village employee working to expand the cemetery. “Now we have to bury these people somewhere,” he added.

The death toll was high, he said, because Mr. Kozyr, a village boy who died in the war, was well-liked and many came to pay their respects. As supporters gathered for the wake, Mr. Kozyr’s widow and daughter were overcome with grief.

They were “crying so much they were almost screaming,” said Tetyana Vorobyova, the wife of the village priest, who left the wake before the strike. The deceased soldier’s son and daughter-in-law were doing better, she said.

The missile killed the soldier’s entire immediate family, including his widow, daughter, son, daughter-in-law, daughter-in-law’s parents, uncles, aunts and other relatives, according to surviving neighbors.

“They’re all gone,” Krasevych said, standing outside a house where the soldier’s son, Denys, had lived with his wife and parents.

On the benches, neighbors discussed the tragedy, wondering who would mourn the dead as they had mourned the soldier on the day of the attack, now that no living relative was known in the town. In the yard, a black and white dog, which another neighbor said was called Pirate, barked wildly and pulled on a chain.

And in the cemetery, a cold wind fluttered the flag over the grave of Private Kozyr, who was killed in an artillery attack at the front last year. Killed while his hometown was under Russian occupation, he had been temporarily buried elsewhere, until Ukrainian troops recaptured Hroza and other parts of the Kharkiv region in a counteroffensive a year ago. Thursday’s wake marked his reburial.

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