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Fifty-one people, including children, were killed by a Russian air strike in the eastern Ukrainian region of Kharkiv on Thursday, marking the deadliest single attack this year.
A Russian missile hit a grocery store and an adjacent café in the village of Hroza, where locals had gathered after a funeral, said Ukraine’s interior affairs minister Ihor Klymenko. Almost every family in the village of 330 people had at least one relative at the gathering, Klymenko added, hinting at a devastating blow for the community.
The village is close to the city of Kupiansk, which Ukrainian forces liberated last autumn as part of a surprise counteroffensive that pushed back Russian troops. The city is a strategic staging area for forces attempting to control the eastern Donbas region both sides continue to fight over.
This year’s counteroffensive, by contrast, has made only modest gains in liberating south-eastern regions where Russia continues to occupy 18 per cent of state territory.
In a Telegram post that included a photograph of bodies lying on the ground, Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskyy described the attack as a “demonstrably brutal Russian crime” and a “completely deliberate act of terrorism”.
Having hours earlier addressed a summit of European leaders in Spain, Zelenskyy went on to urge European leaders to strengthen Ukraine’s air defences and provide more weaponry for his military, saying it is “about giving our country protection from terror”.
Spain has said it will give Ukraine six new Hawk missile launchers to bolster its defences after prime minister Pedro Sánchez met Zelenskyy in Granada. A Spanish official said the missile launchers would help Ukraine “cope with possible Russian bombardment of civilian targets and critical infrastructure”.
After meeting Zelenskyy in Granada on Thursday, Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced that Germany “will supply another Patriot air defence system to help ward off aerial and drone attacks during the coming winter months”.
Denise Brown, the UN’s humanitarian co-ordinator for Ukraine, condemned Russia’s actions and said that “intentionally directing an attack against civilians or civilian objects is a war crime”.
Kyiv, its western allies and human rights activists have repeatedly accused Russia’s invading forces of conducting indiscriminate shelling and air strikes of civilian buildings and public infrastructure, as well as other war crimes including rape, torture and the abduction of children.
The International Criminal Court has issued arrest warrants for Russian president Vladimir Putin and a top official in his government for war crimes related to the abduction of children.
Ukrainian authorities are pursuing more than 100,000 war crimes charges against Russia. Nearly 600 days into the war, Kyiv estimates that almost 10,000 civilians have been killed, including 504 children.
Hundreds of thousands of combatants on both sides are estimated to have been killed or seriously wounded. Material destruction is also significant, with 120,000 buildings including 365 schools being destroyed in Russian aerial attacks.
Additional reporting by Barney Jopson in Granada