A Russian missile wiped out half of the hundred inhabitants of the Ukrainian village of Hroza | International

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Two excavators and a dozen workers with chainsaws and hoes were expanding the grounds of the cemetery in the Ukrainian village of Hroza against the clock this Friday. The cemetery will double its size to accommodate the remains of 52 of its neighbors, killed on Thursday by a Russian missile. The tragedy is exceptionally painful because the attack killed half of the inhabitants of this town in Kharkiv province, in the east of the country. The United Nations Human Rights Office in Ukraine suggests that it was an intentional bombing, and is investigating it as a war crime. This Friday, one day after the Hroza massacre, Russia attacked several municipalities in the same province with missiles, including the capital, causing the death of two people and around thirty people injured.

Tatiana Buks does not remember any expression of so much pain concentrated in the same place so far in the war. Buks is the head of the team of psychologists at Proliska, an NGO that assists Hroza survivors under the umbrella of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). She was working on the largest massacre to date of civilians during the invasion, in April 2022, the bombing of the Kramatorsk train station, also by the Russian Army, in which more than 60 people lost their lives. “But Kramatorsk is a city, and at the station there were people from all over Donetsk province,” says Buks, “this is a town that before the war had just over 300 inhabitants, and now there were only a little more left. 100″.

Other neighbors consulted by this newspaper corroborate that in a matter of seconds, Hroza was left without half of his neighbors. Many of those who survived wander its streets without a defined direction, still in a state of shock. A couple and their two daughters sit on a bench in front of their house, without speaking. “See the house next to ours? “They have all died,” says the mother between sobs. The data and testimonies collected by EL PAÍS in Hroza confirm that a Russian precision attack deliberately ended their lives.

After 3:30 p.m. on Thursday, a missile hit a municipal premises that also served as a restaurant and cafeteria. The Kharkiv Provincial Prosecutor's Office has indicated that the weapon used was an Iskander ballistic rocket, known for its supersonic speed and enormous explosive charge. In that dining room, a lunch was being held in memory of the soldier Andrii Kozir, who died in combat in the province of Dnipro on March 29, 2022. His son Denis asked to exhume his father's remains, which were in Dnipro, according to sources from the Hroza town hall, so that he would be buried in his hometown. After the funeral, on Thursday, a fraternity meal was organized to say goodbye to this well-known son of the municipality. The Ukrainian Prosecutor's Office suspects that a collaborator of the Russians in the area provided the coordinates of the meeting place so that it would be attacked. Denis Kozir and the rest of his family were also killed.

A woman lays flowers at the site of Thursday's attack on Hroza, in the Kharkiv region.THOMAS PETER (REUTERS)

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“The Russians must have believed that there were high-ranking members of the Army at the funeral, but the truth is that there were none. All the dead are residents of the town,” says Volodimir Shudravii, head of infrastructure for the Hroza municipal council. Shudravii coordinates the rehabilitation of damaged buildings and assistance to the emergency services working on the scene. Members of the National Guard with dogs search the area to find evidence of the crime. Among the rubble of the bombed building, fire teams are carefully lifting rubble to remove remains of the victims that could be used for DNA identification tests. On towels and plastic tarps they place fingers, limbs and what look like pieces of charred meat.

A precise hit

Shudravii also assumes that the information was provided to the enemy by a collaborator. “The hit was so precise, exactly in the center of the building, where they were eating.” Kharkiv, like the rest of Eastern Ukraine, is one of the regions that historically has had a greater part of the population close to Russian culture and identity. A military unit stationed in Hroza explains to EL PAÍS that it is very unlikely that the information about the funeral gathering would have been obtained by the invader with spy drones like the Orlan, because they do not travel that far from the combat zones - the village is located 32 kilometers from the Kupiansk war front. As in most of the villages in the rear, in Hroza soldiers are housed in now empty houses. Another possible hypothesis is that the Russian Army confused the funeral with a military meeting.

Grave of Andriy Kozir, a soldier for whom the funeral was held in Hrozar.
Grave of Andriy Kozir, a soldier for whom the funeral was held in Hrozar.Cristian Segura

The missile hit the northeast façade of the building, that is, it came from the direction where Russia or the Russian-occupied territories in Lugansk province are located. That the attack was Russian is "demonstrable," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stressed on Thursday, a detail that the press has interpreted as a veiled mention of the doubts that arose about the cause of the death of 16 people on September 6 in Kostiantinivka, Donetsk province. The Ukrainian authorities did not hesitate to point out that the massacre was caused by a Russian missile, but an investigation by The New York Times concluded that the tragedy was caused by a Ukrainian anti-aircraft missile that malfunctioned. Unlike the Kostiantinivka case, UN representatives in Ukraine lean toward Russian responsibility. “Our thoughts are also with the people of Ukraine, who have once again witnessed another barbaric consequence of the Russian invasion,” Denise Brown, coordinator of the UN Office in Ukraine, said in a statement.

This Friday there were still 16 unidentified bodies and four missing people, including two minors. The head of the municipal council of Hroza, a district of neighboring Shevchenkove, was also missing. His son, Dmitro Nechvolod, went to the scene of the massacre to recover what little was left of his father's car, which had been parked in the courtyard of the building. The sirens warning of a possible air attack sounded again while Nechvolod removed what was left of his father's old utility vehicle. 500 meters away, in Shevchenkove, a Russian missile fell.

Destruction caused by a Russian missile in the center of Kharkiv this October 6.
Destruction caused by a Russian missile in the center of Kharkiv this October 6.Cristian Segura

The day had already begun in the province of Kharkiv with a new attack against the center of the regional capital. Two missiles, also Iskander, according to military authorities, caused the death of two people, a grandmother and her 10-year-old grandson, and left around thirty people injured. Due to Kharkiv's proximity to Russia - the border is 40 kilometers away - Russian cruise and ballistic missiles can reach their target in a matter of a few minutes, giving anti-aircraft defenses little room for action. In the municipality of Vovchansk, on the province's border with Russia, the invader's artillery wounded six people, according to the province's governor.

Kharkiv, Ukraine's second city, has been a symbol of the country's resistance against the invader, who tried unsuccessfully to occupy it in the early stages of the war. The Ukrainian Armed Forces liberated virtually the entire province in a surprise counteroffensive in September 2022. Towns like Hroza were under Russian control for seven months. Its former occupants have returned to it with a missile to leave it littered with death.

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