The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Russian strikes in Vinnytsia kill at least 23, with gruesome civilian toll

A building and car hit by a Russian military strike in Vinnytsia, Ukraine, on July 14. (Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters)
Placeholder while article actions load

Russian missiles struck a business complex in the central Ukrainian city of Vinnytsia on Thursday, killing at least 23 people in an attack Ukrainian authorities described as a war crime and act of terrorism.

Cruise missiles launched from a Russian submarine in the Black Sea damaged a nine-story office block and destroyed cars in its parking lot, far from the war’s front lines, about 10:50 a.m. local time, Ukrainian officials said, according to Reuters. Restaurants and nearby residential buildings also appeared to have been struck. President Volodymyr Zelensky said two “community facilities” had been destroyed.

Serhiy Borzov, the region’s governor, said Russian forces fired four missiles in total. Ukrainian authorities found and confirmed the remnants of two that hit, and the other two were shot down by Ukrainian air defense.

Ukraine’s state emergency service said 23 people were killed, including three children. Seventy-one people were hospitalized, and 29 remained missing as of late Thursday. The service said at 10:30 p.m. local time that its units had suspended their work.

Photos sent to The Washington Post by Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s Interior Ministry, who said they were taken at the scene, show a bloodied child, with her legs at an unnatural angle, lying next to a severed adult foot. In another photo, charred remains, barely recognizable as human, lie splayed in the dirt.

Gerashchenko identified the toddler as Elizaveta Dmitrieva. The clothing and shoes in the photo match those worn by the child, Lisa, in an Instagram story posted by her mother, identified by a classmate as Iryna Dmitrieva, an hour before the attack.

The Instagram account that appears to belong to Dmitrieva, who goes by Ira, is filled with photos of Lisa cuddling with her mother and frolicking through flowers. She was 4 and had Down syndrome, according to the posts.

“Is it possible to fall in love again and again?” Dmitrieva wrote under a photograph of her daughter posted last month.

A Ukrainian organization that works with children with Down syndrome confirmed in a Facebook post Thursday evening that Lisa had been killed and that Ira was in an intensive care unit in Vinnytsia. The group shared a link to a crowdfunding campaign to support Dmitrieva.

Lisa was at a speech therapy center in Vinnytsia before the attack, the center’s manager, Valeriya Korol, told The Post. “She visited this morning and then she went home and terrible things happened.”

“The little girl Lisa, killed by the Russians today, has become a ray of sunshine,” read a Telegram post on the account of Ukraine’s state emergency service. “Forgive us, little one, that we did not save you.”

On his Telegram account, Zelensky denounced the attack, which struck about 110 miles southwest of the capital, Kyiv. He called it “an open act of terrorism” against civilians.

He shared video footage of blackened buildings, burned-out vehicles and emergency personnel working at the scene.

Ukrainian officials accused Russia of striking a target with no military value. Margarita Simonyan, editor in chief of the Russian state-sponsored media organization RT, said the Defense Ministry in Moscow told her the Vinnytsia strike hit a military officers’ club. The Washington Post could not verify the claim.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba accused Russia of committing “another war crime.” He tweeted a video from the scene that appeared to show a stroller lying on a debris-littered street as a casualty is wheeled on a stretcher and flames billow from the site of the attack.

Images taken by journalists show emergency responders sifting through the rubble. Nearby, the charred husks of cars are stained with blood.

What are war crimes, and is Russia committing them in Ukraine?

International law prohibits deliberately targeting civilian sites or attacks that cause disproportionate civilian casualties given the military objective. “We will put Russian war criminals on trial for every drop of Ukrainian blood and tears,” Kuleba wrote on Twitter.

U.N. Secretary General António Guterres was “appalled” by the missile attack, said his deputy spokesman Farhan Haq.

“Russia commits another horrific attack claiming lives of innocent civilians in Vinnytsia,” U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget A. Brink wrote on Twitter. The United States issued a renewed warning to U.S. citizens in Ukraine on Thursday about the threat of “unpredictable” missile strikes.

The attack came as officials from Ukraine, the European Union and the United Nations gathered in The Hague for a conference on accountability for war crimes in Ukraine, hosted by Dutch Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra, International Criminal Court Prosecutor Karim Khan and E.U. Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders.

The gathering aimed to coordinate the slew of efforts by international and domestic actors to investigate and prosecute alleged war crimes committed during the war in Ukraine. At Thursday’s conference, 45 countries, including the United States, signed a declaration to work together on investigations. Khan called for an “overarching strategy” to hold perpetrators of war crimes in Ukraine accountable.

In a video address to attendees, Zelensky cast the conference as a watershed moment for international law.

Invoking the attack on Vinnytsia, “an ordinary, peaceful city,” he called for a moment of silence for “the memory of all those killed by Russian crimes.” Assembled officials stood and bowed their heads.

An ‘unprecedented’ effort to document war crimes in Ukraine. But what chance of justice?

Russian atrocities during the invasion of Ukraine — including the shooting of unarmed civilians, sexual violence and forced deportations — have prompted an unprecedented global effort to hold Russia accountable under international law, even as the fighting grinds on. Funding, resources and support have poured in to assist Ukrainian Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova and investigators from the International Criminal Court, among other actors.

The array of probes has raised concerns about overlap, however. Countries represented at Thursday’s conference agreed to create an umbrella group to prevent duplication of efforts, train Ukrainian prosecutors and expand the number of forensic teams operating in Ukraine, Reuters reported. They also pledged $20 million to help the ICC.

At a separate meeting of the Permanent Council of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a mission of experts said they had found “clear patterns of serious violations of international humanitarian law attributable mostly to Russian armed forces.”

Ukrainian courts have already convicted three Russian soldiers of war crimes, and the prosecutor general’s office has registered more than 22,000 additional suspected war crimes. Meanwhile, a global movement to prosecute Russian President Vladimir Putin for the crime of aggression is growing, as the invasion has turned attention to the issue of illegal war.

Analysis: A growing movement against illegal war

Ukrainian officials called Thursday for the establishment of a special tribunal to try Russia for its war of “aggression.”

Addressing diplomats, judicial authorities and prosecutors at the Ukraine Accountability Conference via video link, Kuleba said the legal “architecture” of the ICC alone was not enough and urged others to back the creation of an “ad hoc” special tribunal with “temporary jurisdiction” to look at crimes committed by Russia since the start of the invasion on Feb. 24. The ICC does not have jurisdiction to prosecute the crime of aggression.

“We call on our international partners to consider entering into agreement on the establishment of the special tribunal for the punishment of the crime of aggression against Ukraine,” Kuleba said. Zelensky said such a tribunal will “ensure the fair and lawful punishment” of Russian officials who started the war.

Hoekstra, the Dutch foreign minister, said the Netherlands would consider setting up an international Ukraine war crimes tribunal, according to Reuters.

European Union foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell also called out Russia’s “unjustified military aggression” and “violation of international law.”

“Let me be very clear: The perpetrators of these unspeakable crimes must and will be held accountable,” he said.

Robyn Dixon, Dalton Bennett, Missy Ryan, Bryan Pietsch and Zina Pozen contributed to this report.