Death toll at 52 after Russia bombs Kharkiv village funeral wake and a hospital in Kherson oblast
Russia’s missile strike on a café and shop in the Kharkiv oblast village of Hroza was one of the bloodiest single attacks on civilians since the beginning of its full-scale invasion. 51 Ukrainians were killed, including a six-year-old boy, while attending a remembrance gathering after the reburial of a Ukrainian soldier. The slain soldier’s wife, as well as his son, who was also a defender, were killed in the strike. His presence at the funeral wake cannot in any way be used to justify this barbaric act. In launching an Iskander missile strike on a village, the Russians were undoubtedly aiming at civilians, as they were that same day when a hospital and ambulance station in Kherson oblast. The latter attack injured an ambulance driver and paramedic.
Hroza is a small village in the Kupiansk raion whose population, which stood at 330 according to the last census, had fallen to around 100 after Russia began its full-scale invasion. Over half the residents were killed by the Russians on 5 October, with the Iskander missile strike at around 13.20, when the building was likely to be full of people.
Tragically, Hroza was far enough from the frontline for the authorities to have not included it in the mandatory evacuation measures announced after Russia stepped up its attacks in the Kupiansk direction. Russia has demonstrated over the last 19 months that no civilians in any part of Ukraine are safe from such barbaric attacks. It has bombed a railway station in Kramatorsk while civilians were trying to get on evacuation trains, a Kremenchuk shopping centre; the centre of Vinnytsa, apartment blocks in Dnipro, Chasiv Yar and countless other cities.
The 5 October attack on a Kherson oblast hospital and ambulance station was simply the latest of well over a thousand air strikes or shelling attacks on medical establishments in Ukraine. On the first anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion, a number of Ukrainian and international organizations published documenting over 700 attacks on Ukraine’s healthcare system. As well as direct airstrikes; the plundering of hospitals; and attacks on ambulances, the Russians had also abducted, tortured and sometimes killed health workers. By the end of December 2022, 62 healthcare personnel had been killed, and a further 52 injured. As of July 2023, Russia was holding around 500 military or civilian medics prisoner in horrifically bad conditions. In , the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights reiterated that “medical objects enjoy special protected status under international humanitarian law and, in principle, cannot be targeted and must be protected at all times.” Deliberately targeting civilians, whether asleep in their beds or attending a funeral wake, is also a war crime. Stating this for the nth time, however, is hardly sufficient, and it is surely time for measures aimed at ensuring Russia and its leaders are held to account go beyond documenting the latest heinous crimes.