The dead included a 6-year-old child, according to the Kharkiv region’s governor, Oleh Synyehubov, who added that six others were injured. Search and rescue operations were completed late Thursday, according to Ukraine’s Interior Ministry.
At the time of the attack, many people — about 60 — were gathered in one place because they were attending a memorial service for a Ukrainian soldier who had died on the battlefield, according to a law enforcement official working in the Kharkiv region.
The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the incident publicly, said it was still unclear if a local villager working with Russian forces had reported the time and location of the memorial as a strike target. “This area is within the range of reconnaissance drones, relatively close to the front line,” the official said.
Videos from the scene, verified by The Washington Post, showed rows of burned bodies lying in grass as rescue crews pulled remains from a destroyed brick building. The entire village, which has a population of fewer than 500 people, had been invited to the memorial service, the law enforcement official said.
A preliminary investigation indicated that the strike was carried out with an Iskander ballistic cruise missile, Ukrainian Interior Minister Ihor Klymenko wrote on the Telegram messaging platform. Russia has used Iskanders in other attacks in Ukraine, including for strikes in August on downtown areas in the cities of Chernihiv and Pokrovsk.
Even in Ukraine, a country where strikes that kill scores of civilians have become tragically commonplace during 19 months of war, Thursday’s attack will resonate as one of the worst.
In January, a missile hit a residential apartment building in Dnipro, killing 46 and injuring 80. Last year, an attack on the Kramatorsk train station killed more than 60 people.
Zelensky, who was attending a European Political Community summit in Granada, Spain, on Thursday, wrote in an Instagram post: “Now, we are talking with European leaders, in particular, about bolstering our air defense, reinforcing our warriors, and giving our country protection from terror.”
“There will be a retaliation against terrorists,” he added. “An absolutely fair and powerful one.”
Ukrainian officials have said that Moscow for months has been trying to gain ground toward Kupyansk, a small city just 30 miles away from Russia’s border veined with strategic roads and rail tracks, including a train line that reaches Russia’s border.
Russian forces occupied the town for six months last year before Ukraine took it back roughly one year ago. The Russian offensive in the area could also be intended to divert Ukrainian military resources from the front line in the south and the east, where Kyiv has mounted a counteroffensive against occupying Russian troops.
Russian soldiers near Kupyansk have made modest gains, but their ultimate goal is unclear. The Kharkiv region, where the city is located, is not one of the four Ukrainian regions, in addition to Crimea, that Russian President Vladimir Putin has declared — in violation of international law — to be annexed by Russia.
Shortly after news of the attack, Putin aired familiar false accusations that the Kyiv government is led by Nazis and that the West is to blame for what he called a Ukrainian “coup d’état” in 2014.
In fact, then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych fled Kyiv after months of protests against his corrupt government and against his refusal to sign political and economic agreements with the European Union. He had previously promised to sign the accords, but changed his mind under pressure from Moscow.
Putin, speaking at the Valdai Discussion Club, an annual policy meeting hosted by the Russian leader, also reiterated his false claim that Russia is not the aggressor.
“We never intimidate the people,” Putin said. “We never intimidated the people of Crimea and Sevastopol with the Nazi-like ethnic cleansing. We didn’t try to subjugate Donbas with shellings and bombings. We never tried to dispose of those who wanted to speak their native language,” he asserted.
Putin also alleged that Ukraine had lost 90,000 personnel since July 4 and more than 900 tanks and armored vehicles, and he claimed that Russia is succeeding in its military objectives.
“Is that convincing or not?” he said. “We are proceeding to achieve our goals and I am sure that we will achieve that and we will out all the tasks that we set forth.”
Putin said that Russia had completed successful tests of the Burevestnik nuclear-powered cruise missile, without elaborating on the tests, and added that the missile and another nuclear missile, Sarmat, would soon go into production. He warned that Russia may deratify the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban-Treaty, which was signed but never ratified by the United States.
Robyn Dixon in Riga, Latvia, and Meg Kelly in Washington contributed to this report.