Russian rockets struck the Ukrainian city of Vinnitsa far behind the front lines on Thursday in an attack that Ukrainian officials called a war crime and said at least 23 people were killed, including three children.
The strike, which Ukraine says was carried out by Kalibr cruise missiles launched from a Russian submarine in the Black Sea, came a day after a breakthrough in talks between Moscow and Kyiv to unblock Ukrainian grain exports and highlighted how far both sides are from this. peaceful settlement.
“What is this if not an open terrorist attack?” President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky wrote about this in the Telegram messenger. UN Secretary-General António Guterres was “shocked” by the rocket attack and “condemns any attack on the civilian population or civilian infrastructure,” a spokesman said.
EU criticizes ‘atrocities’
The European Union has strongly condemned what it called “atrocities” following the attacks.
“This atrocity in Vinnitsa is the latest in a long series of brutal attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarcic said in a statement.
“There can be no impunity for violations and crimes committed by the Russian forces and their political superiors.” The Russian Defense Ministry, which denies deliberately targeting civilians, did not immediately comment on the strike.
The State Emergency Service of Ukraine reported on its Facebook page that 23 people, including three children, were killed, 66 were hospitalized, and 39 were missing. He posted on his Telegram channel a photo of a toy kitten, a toy dog and flowers lying in the grass.
“The little girl Liza, killed today by the Russians, has become a ray of sunshine,” it said above the second image of the setting sun over the ruined roofs. “Forgive us, baby, that we did not save you.”
Zelenskiy told an international conference on the prosecution of war crimes in Ukraine that the attack was on an “ordinary, peaceful city.”
“Cruise missiles hit two social facilities, houses were destroyed, a medical center was destroyed, cars and trams caught fire,” he said.
The Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine Denis Monastyrsky said that later two more missiles were intercepted by air defense systems.
Russia, which launched a so-called “special military operation” against Ukraine on February 24, says it is using precision-guided weapons to degrade Ukraine’s military infrastructure to protect its own security.
Vinnytsia, a city of 370,000 people about 200 kilometers southwest of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, is home to the Ukrainian Air Force command headquarters, according to the official Ukrainian military website, a target Russia used cruise missiles to hit in March, Ukrainian then the Air Force said.
Video footage shows thick black smoke billowing from a tall building, while photos posted online by the State Emergency Service show gray smoke billowing later from the twisted remains of burnt cars and smoldering debris.
One of them showed an abandoned, overturned stroller lying on the street.
Firefighters gather as they clear debris from a damaged building following a Russian airstrike in the city of Vinnytsia, west-central Ukraine, on July 14, 2022. Source: Getty / SERGEY SUPINSKY/AFP via Getty Images
In comments on Twitter, Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba accused Russia of committing “another war crime.”
“This is terrorism. Deliberately killing civilians to spread fear. Russia is a terrorist state and should be legally recognized as such,” Mr. Kuleba wrote.
Forty-five countries commit to reconcile evidence of war crimes
The United States and more than 40 other countries agreed on Thursday to coordinate investigations into alleged war crimes in Ukraine shortly after the strike.
At a conference at the headquarters of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, they signed a political declaration to work together to investigate war crimes in Ukraine.
These countries included the states of the European Union, the UK, the US, Canada, Mexico and Australia. Steps they will take include setting up an umbrella group to avoid duplication of investigations, training Ukrainian prosecutors, and increasing the number of forensic teams operating in Ukraine.
They also pledged 20 million euros to help the ICC, as well as Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s Office and UN support efforts.
With some 23,000 war crimes investigations currently open, with different countries leading teams, the evidence needs to be credible and systematized, officials say.
Dutch Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra said governments were disturbed by images of “innocent civilians being killed with their hands tied behind their backs, women and men being raped, and sometimes family members being forced to watch.”
Separately, Mr Hoekstra said the Netherlands would consider setting up an international war crimes tribunal in Ukraine, in part because neither Ukraine nor Russia is a member of the ICC.
“We have to fill the vacuum, and the ICC has no jurisdiction here, so I can imagine that we are really considering the possibility of creating such a tribunal … We will consider it,” he said.
Fighting on the Eastern Front
Russia has denied the allegations, with Dmitry Medvedev, a former president and now deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, saying Western attempts to punish a nuclear power like Russia for the conflict in Ukraine risk endangering humanity.
The Kremlin has said Russia is ready to stop what the West calls Moscow’s unprovoked war of aggression if Kyiv agrees to its terms.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrey Rudenko said on Thursday that Moscow would respond positively if Kyiv was ready to resume peace talks, the Interfax news agency reported.
Kyiv will have to confirm its non-bloc and non-nuclear status and officially recognize the existing territorial realities, Rudenko said.
Specifically, he said it would mean recognizing that Crimea, annexed by Moscow in 2014, is under Russian control and that the two self-proclaimed Russian-backed states in eastern Ukraine are no longer administered by Kyiv.
Ukraine has repeatedly said it is unwilling to cede any territory to a country it calls a hostile occupier and has said it plans to return any land lost by force.
Russian-backed separatist forces took control of the settlements of Strepovka and Novaya Kamenka east of Soledar late Thursday evening, the LPR militia reported on its Telegram channel.
Two people were killed when Ukrainian forces shelled a bus station in the separatist-held city of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, a separatist leader said Thursday.
After the invasion in February, Russian troops bombed Ukrainian cities to rubble and left bodies on the streets of occupied cities and villages. Ukraine claims the death of tens of thousands of civilians. Moscow denies its responsibility.
There have also been some reports of Ukrainian mistreatment of Russian prisoners, although the vast majority of allegations documented by bodies such as the UN concern alleged atrocities committed by Russian occupiers and their proxies.
“While this meeting is going on, Russian forces continue to commit atrocities in Ukraine with appalling intensity,” said U.S. Ambassador Uzra Zeya, who attended the meeting in The Hague.
“The number of war crimes is increasing every day: rape, torture, extrajudicial executions, disappearances, forced deportations, attacks on schools, hospitals, playgrounds, apartment buildings, grain storage facilities, water and gas facilities.”
European Union Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said war crimes and genocide suspects are still at large due to decades of conflict in places like Rwanda, Darfur, Syria, Congo and the Balkans.