The Sept. 6 rocket onslaught connected Kostiantynivka successful eastbound Ukraine was 1 of the deadliest successful the state successful months, sidesplitting astatine slightest 15 civilians and injuring much than 30 others. The weapon’s payload of metallic fragments struck a market, piercing windows and walls and wounding immoderate victims beyond recognition.
Less than 2 hours later, President Volodymyr Zelensky blamed Russian “terrorists” for the attack, and galore media outlets followed suit. Throughout its penetration of Ukraine, Russia has repeatedly and systematically attacked civilians and struck schools, markets and residences arsenic a deliberate maneuver to instill fearfulness successful the populace. In Kostiantynivka successful April, they shelled homes and a preschool, sidesplitting six.
But grounds collected and analyzed by The New York Times, including rocket fragments, outer imagery, witnesser accounts and societal media posts, powerfully suggests the catastrophic onslaught was the effect of an errant Ukrainian aerial defence rocket fired by a Buk motorboat system.
The onslaught appears to person been a tragic mishap. Air defence experts accidental missiles similar the 1 that deed the marketplace tin spell disconnected people for a assortment of reasons, including an physics malfunction or a guidance fin that is damaged oregon sheared disconnected astatine the clip of launch.
The apt rocket nonaccomplishment happened amid the back-and-forth battles communal successful the surrounding area. Russian forces shelled Kostiantynivka the nighttime before; Ukrainian artillery occurrence from the metropolis was reported successful a section Telegram radical conscionable minutes earlier the onslaught connected the market.
A spokesperson for Ukraine’s equipped forces said the country’s information work is investigating the incident, and nether nationalist instrumentality can’t remark further.
Ukrainian authorities initially tried to forestall journalists with The Times from accessing the rocket debris and interaction country successful the strike’s contiguous aftermath. But the reporters were yet capable to get to the scene, interrogation witnesses and cod remnants of the limb used.
Security camera footage shows that the rocket flew into Kostiantynivka from the absorption of Ukrainian-held territory, not from down Russian lines.
As the dependable of the approaching rocket is heard, astatine slightest 4 pedestrians look to simultaneously crook their heads toward the incoming sound. They look the camera — successful the absorption of Ukrainian-held territory. Moments earlier it strikes, the missile’s reflection is disposable arsenic it passes implicit 2 parked cars, showing it traveling from the northwest.
The missile’s warhead detonates a fewer yards supra the crushed soon earlier impact, blasting metallic fragments outward. The resulting crater and harm extending from the constituent of detonation is accordant with a rocket coming from a northwesterly route, according to an explosives adept and a Times analysis.
A Suspected Ukrainian Launch Site
Further grounds reveals that minutes earlier the strike, the Ukrainian subject launched 2 surface-to-air missiles toward the Russian beforehand enactment from the municipality of Druzhkivka, 10 miles northwest of Kostiantynivka.
Reporters with The Times were successful Druzhkivka erstwhile they heard an outgoing rocket motorboat astatine 2 p.m., followed a fewer minutes aboriginal by a second. By chance, 1 subordinate of the squad recorded the archetypal motorboat successful a dependable message.
Residents successful Druzhkivka besides reported an outgoing motorboat astatine that clip connected a section Telegram group. “One more,” a station astatine 2:03 p.m. said, referring to a 2nd rocket launch. Locals adjacent the launches described them arsenic abnormally large — beyond the sounds of warfare they person go accustomed to — which tracks with witness accounts of past Buk launches.
The timing of these launches is accordant with the time frame for the rocket that struck the marketplace successful Kostiantynivka, astir 2:04 p.m.
Map successful Eastern Ukraine showing wherever missiles were launched, wherever they deed and territory occupied by Russia.
at 2:00 p.m. and a
few minutes later.
HELD BY RUSSIA
as of Sept. 6
Missile deed market
at 2:04 p.m.
at 2:00 p.m. and a
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Missile deed market
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Additionally, 2 witnesses who spoke to The Times said they saw the missiles being fired from Druzhkivka successful the absorption of the Russian beforehand enactment astir the clip of the strike; 1 of them said helium saw the missiles going successful the absorption of Kostiantynivka. A Ukrainian worker stationed successful Druzhkivka, who asked to stay anonymous, besides said helium heard 2 rocket launches astatine astir the aforesaid time.
One of the witnesses besides said the missiles were launched from fields connected the outskirts of the town, a spot residents accidental is utilized by the Ukrainian subject and from which they person antecedently seen aerial defence missiles.
Times reporters who visited the tract saw indications that it had precocious been utilized by the military, including trenches, trash pits and wide tracks accordant with a ample subject vehicle.
Another cardinal indicator: scorch marks. Various ground-launched aerial defence missiles are fired from the rear of a ample conveyance and pain the surrounding turf erstwhile they are fired. Analysis of before-and-after outer imagery shows caller scorch marks astir the trenches connected the time of the strike, perchance indicating that the tract was utilized for launching missiles.
In the aftermath of the attack, Ukrainian authorities said Russian forces utilized a rocket fired by an S-300 aerial defence system, which Russia has utilized some to intercept craft and onslaught targets connected the ground. But an S-300 rocket carries a antithetic warhead from the 1 that exploded successful Kostiantynivka.
The metallic facades of buildings closest to the detonation were perforated with hundreds of quadrate oregon rectangular holes, astir apt made by cube-like objects blown outward from the missile.
Measurements of the holes — and fragments recovered astatine the country — are accordant successful size and signifier with 1 limb successful particular: the 9M38 missile, which is fired by the mobile Buk antiaircraft vehicle. Ukraine is known to usage the Buk system, arsenic is Russia.
Some of the holes are little than 10 millimeters successful width, portion others are somewhat larger. The 9M38 contains two antithetic sizes of solid-metal cubic fragments: 8 millimeters and 13 millimeters across.
A Times newsman besides reviewed different rocket fragments recovered from aggregate locations successful Ukraine that had been fired by Russian S-300, S-400 and Buk aerial defence systems, arsenic good arsenic 2 antithetic American aerial defence systems. Their shapes and measurements amusement that the harm astatine the marketplace tract was astir apt caused by an 9M38.
Two autarkic subject bomb-disposal experts, who asked to stay anonymous truthful they could talk candidly, came to the aforesaid decision and said that the fragments and harm astatine the onslaught tract are astir accordant with an 9M38.
Several witnesses either heard oregon saw Ukrainian forces firing surface-to-air missiles from Druzhkivka toward Kostiantynivka astatine the clip of the marketplace strike. And grounds collected astatine the marketplace shows that the rocket came from that direction.
Why the missile, which has a maximum range of conscionable implicit 17 miles, whitethorn person landed successful Kostiantynivka is unclear — though it’s imaginable it malfunctioned and crashed earlier hitting its intended target.
In immoderate case, astatine specified a abbreviated scope — little than 10 miles — the rocket is astir apt to person landed with unspent substance successful its rocket motor, which would detonate oregon pain upon impact, offering a imaginable mentation for the wide scorch marks astatine the market.
Julian E. Barnes contributed reporting from Washington, D.C., and Aric Toler from New York. Additional probe was contributed by Rob McDonagh of Storyful.
Christoph Koettl is simply a Visual Investigations writer with the Times video team, specializing successful the investigation of outer imagery, video and different ocular evidence. He has shared successful 2 Pulitzer Prizes for sum of the civilian toll of U.S. aerial and drone strikes, and Russian atrocities successful Ukraine. More astir Christoph Koettl