Ukraine accuses Russia of ‘terrorism’ as missile attack kills 23

Russian missiles struck the city of Vinnytsia in central Ukraine, killing at least 23 people, including three children, in what Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called “an open act of terrorism”.

The midday attack on Thursday on a city hundreds of kilometres from front-line fighting and far from invading Russian troops came as European Union officials convened in The Hague to discuss Russia’s war crimes in Ukraine.

“There were eight rockets, two of which hit the centre of the city. Twenty people have died, including three children. There is a large, large number of wounded,” Zelenskyy said during an address to European officials meeting at The Hague to discuss war crimes by Moscow’s forces.

Rescuers later updated the death toll in the city to 23, saying the search for another 39 people continues.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was “appalled” by the attack on civilians in the city, while the EU slammed the Russian missile attack as an “atrocity”. Both called for accountability.

Zelenskyy led a moment of silence before urging EU and International Criminal Court (ICC) officials to open a “special tribunal” into Russia’s invasion of his country and the slaughter of civilians.

“I believe it is inevitable that International Criminal Court will bring accountability to those guilty of crimes under its jurisdiction: war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide,” he said.

Ukraine’s Interior Minister Denys Monastyrskyi said later that two more missiles had been intercepted en route to the city by air defences.

War crimes tribunal

The ICC in The Hague opened an investigation into possible war crimes in Ukraine just days after Moscow’s forces invaded in February and has dispatched dozens of investigators to the country to gather evidence.

Thousands of people have been killed, cities have been destroyed, and millions forced to flee their homes since Russia invaded.

“Every day, Russia kills civilians, kills Ukrainian children, carries out missile attacks on the civilian facilities where there is no military target. What is this, if not an open act of terrorism?” Zelenskyy said.

In comments on Twitter, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba accused Russia of committing “another war crime” on Thursday.

“This is terrorism. Deliberate murder of civilians to spread fear. Russia is a terrorist state and must be legally recognised as such,” Kuleba wrote.

A Ukraine military spokesperson said its forces had managed to knock out two from a barrage of cruise missiles that were launched from a Russian submarine in the Black Sea and caused widespread damage and deaths in Vinnytsia.

Deadly attacks in central Ukraine have become relatively rare, but the war has raged around cities such as Mykolaiv in the south, which the presidency said was hit by a “massive missile strike”.

“Two schools, transport infrastructure and a hotel were damaged,” the presidency said in its morning military update on Thursday.

The heaviest fighting in Ukraine, however, has focused recently on the industrial Donbas region in the east.

Peace negotiations

Moscow-backed troops said on Thursday they were closing in on their next target, Siversk, after wresting control of sister cities Lysychansk and Severodonetsk two weeks ago.

“Siversk is under our operational control, which means that the enemy can be hit by our aimed fire all over the area,” a pro-Moscow rebel official, Daniil Bezsonov, was cited as saying by Russian state-run news agency TASS.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrey Rudenko also said on Thursday that Moscow would respond positively should Kyiv be ready to resume peace negotiations, the Interfax news agency reported.

Kyiv would have to affirm its non-aligned and non-nuclear status and formally recognise existing territorial realities, Rudenko was cited as saying.

Specifically, he said that would mean recognising that Crimea, annexed by Moscow in 2014, was under Russian control and that two self-proclaimed Russian-backed separatist regions in eastern Ukraine were no longer under Kyiv’s remit.

Ukraine has repeatedly said it is unwilling to concede any territory to a country it calls a hostile occupier and has said it plans to take back any land lost by force.

Several rounds of negotiations to end the fighting at the beginning of the conflict fell through, but delegations from Kyiv and Moscow met in Istanbul this week to discuss unblocking Ukraine’s grain exports.

The meeting involving UN and Turkish officials ended after more than three hours with an agreement to meet again in Turkey next week.

Zelenskyy said “the entire world” was counting on the negotiations to finalise a deal on grain exports.

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