A missile strike that hit a crowded market in the Ukrainian city of Kostiantynivka killing at least 17 civilians earlier this month could have been caused by an errant missile fired by Ukraine, the New York Times has reported.
A further 32 people were wounded on 6 September by the impact of the missile 12 miles (20km) from the frontlines in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, in one of the highest civilian death tolls from a single incident in recent months.
Video of the aftermath showed fires raging in destroyed buildings and soldiers carrying body bags away from the scene. The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a few hours later accused Russia of being responsible for the attack.
However, evidence collected and analysed by the New York Times suggests the strike was “the result of an Ukrainian air defence missile fired by a Buk launch system” that failed to hit its intended target and landed in the bustling heart of Kostiantynivka instead.
“Missile fragments, satellite imagery, witness accounts and social media posts, strongly suggests the catastrophic strike was the result of an errant Ukrainian air defence missile fired” it reported on Tuesday.
Security camera footage reviewed by the paper shows that “the missile flew into Kostiantynivka from the direction of Ukrainian-held territory, not from behind Russian lines”.
It said that as the sound of the approaching missile was heard, at least four pedestrians appear to simultaneously turn their heads toward the incoming sound in the direction of Ukrainian-held territory.
The newspaper has also released a video featuring, moments before the strike, the missile’s reflection visible as it passes over two parked cars as it appears to travel from the north-west.
The New York Times said two independent military bomb-disposal experts, who asked to remain anonymous, said the fragments and damage at the strike site were most consistent with an 9M38, which is fired by the mobile Buk anti-aircraft system, and not with a Russian S-300.
Reporters quoted air defence experts as saying missiles such as the one that hit Kostiantynivka can go off course for a variety of reasons, including an electronic malfunction or having a guidance fin that is damaged or sheared off during launch.
The New York Times also cited evidence showing that, minutes before the strike, the Ukrainian military had launched two surface-to-air missiles towards the Russian frontline from the town of Druzhkivka, 10 miles (16km) north-west of Kostiantynivka.
The Guardian could not verify the report. In response to the accusation, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), the main government intelligence agency, said it was investigating the incident, which it called a “war crime committed by Russia”.
“According to the investigation, the enemy hit this civilian facility with an S-300 system. This is evidenced, in particular, by the identified missile fragments recovered at the scene of the tragedy,” it said. “The investigation is also examining a number of other materials that point to the enemy’s involvement in this attack,” it added, without providing details.
A spokesperson for the Russian foreign ministry, Maria Zakharova, claimed the missile was fired by Ukrainian forces. “Even if it was done unintentionally, it is obvious to everyone: the complete demilitarisation of the Kyiv regime is not just a requirement, but a vital necessity,” Zakharova said.
On 15 November 2022, a missile struck the Polish village of Przewodów, near the border with Ukraine, killing two people. While Ukraine insisted it had “no doubt” the missile had been fired from Russia, an investigation by Polish authorities eventually established that it was “highly probable that it was fired by Ukrainian anti-aircraft defence” and “unfortunately fell on Polish territory”.
Since the beginning of the Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Moscow has repeatedly bombed thousands of residential buildings, more than 300 hospitals and more than 3,000 schools and university buildings, resulting in the deaths of thousands of people.