President Volodymyr Zelenskyy promises “the full truth” after at least 20 soldiers were killed in a Russian missile attack.
Ukraine has launched a criminal investigation after a group of soldiers attending an “award ceremony” not far from the front line in the southern region of Zaporizhia were killed in a Russian missile attack.
According to local media, at least 20 soldiers were killed in Friday’s incident in Zarichne. Zaporizhia Governor Yuriy Malashko said nine civilians were also wounded in the attack on the village, which is about 16 kilometers (10 miles) from the front line.
“This is a tragedy that could have been avoided,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a speech Sunday night.
“A criminal investigation has been launched into the tragedy,” he added, stating that the intention was to uncover the “full truth” about what happened to ensure that similar incidents are not repeated.
The Ukrainian Armed Forces confirmed on Saturday that several soldiers from its 128th Mountain Assault Brigade had been killed in a missile attack the previous day, but did not provide casualty figures.
“[Russia] fired an Iskander-M missile at personnel of the 128th Mountain Assault Brigade, killing the soldiers and causing injuries of varying severity to local residents,” the army said.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Rustem Umerov said in a statement on social media the same day that he had ordered a “full investigation” into what happened.
Zelenskyy said Umerov had briefed him on steps taken to clarify the circumstances of the attack, who specifically was involved and what orders were given.
The New York Times, citing a military official who was not identified because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said any investigation would likely focus on how Russia learned of the event and was able to attack it. By holding the ceremony outdoors, senior members of the brigade appeared to have violated military regulations, the official added.
A Ukrainian soldier claimed on social media that 22 people from the brigade had died and criticized commanders for holding the ceremony.
The event was organized to commemorate Artillery Day, which took place on Friday.
“Everyone writes that ‘the heroes died.’ Although it would be more appropriate to write ‘Heroes became victims,’” said soldier Ivan Savytsky.
“They became victims of rudimentary military traditionalism at its worst,” he said.
In its daily updates on developments on the battlefield, the Russian Defense Ministry said only that Russian forces had “inflicted fire” on a unit of the Ukrainian assault brigade in Zaporizhia, killing up to 30 soldiers.
Russia and Ukraine have often underestimated their own military casualties in the 20-month war and exaggerated the losses they claim to have inflicted on each other.
Ukraine’s western Zakarpattia region, where the 128th Assault Brigade is based, will observe a three-day mourning period starting Monday, local governor Viktor Mykyta said.
“Our heroes are alive as long as the memory of them and their exploits lives on,” he said.
Amid little apparent movement along the nearly 1,000-kilometer (620-mile) front line, Zelenskyy has rejected suggestions that the conflict is at a stalemate, urging allies to continue their support even as the war between Israel and Gaza is attracting more and more attention.
In his statement on Sunday, Zelenskyy sought to reassure Ukrainians about the conflict.
“When we go through weeks like this, full of pain and difficult discussions, it is important for people to understand that what is heavy in their hearts is seen and the necessary changes will be made,” the president said.
“This applies to many things, from the negligence that can occur to the Soviet legacy and the terrible bureaucracy that prevents Ukraine and many members of our defense forces from realizing their potential correctly and effectively.”
Zelenskyy promised that the investigation into the attack would provide “honest answers” for the soldiers’ families as well as Ukrainian society at large.