KOSTIANTYNIVKA, Ukraine (AP) — The Russian missile that struck Wednesday in eastern Ukraine turned an outdoor market into a fiery, blackened ruin where weeping civilians looked for loved ones among the mangled, burned bodies scattered across the ground.
The blast in the town of Kostiantynivka killed 17 people and wounded at least 32 in one of Russia’s deadliest strikes in months, Ukrainian officials said.
“There was no military target here. This is a peaceful neighborhood in the city center,” Stefan Slovak, who lives in Kostiantynivka, said in a trembling voice.
Behind him were the remnants of the market, where charred bodies could be seen in the street, their clothes still burning, near cars engulfed in flames. Behind a market stall holding fresh parsley, rescuers found a women in civilian clothes with her head covered in blood.
Video taken by The Associated Press showed a chaotic scene, with charred bodies lying on the ground, some of them still burning. As firefighters tried to douse the flames, first responders rushed to apply tourniquets and load the wounded into emergency vehicles using stretchers and blankets. Posters or tarps were used to cover some of the dead. Onlookers cried and consoled one another.
“They are shooting at peaceful civilians. Are we soldiers here? Are we shooting at them? No! So why? They are just trying to destroy Ukrainian nation,” said resident Nadezhda Negoda.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the strike was deliberate. He has visited the town many times on trips to the front line.
“Those who know this place are well aware that it is a civilian area. There aren’t any military units nearby,” Zelenskyy said during a news conference in Kyiv with visiting Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen.
He said the strike reflects the situation on the battlefield.
“Whenever there are any positive advances by Ukrainian defense forces in that direction, Russians always target civilian people and civilian objects,” he said.
Ukraine’s minister of internal affairs, Ihor Klymenko reported that emergency workers extinguished the flames that burned an area of 300 square meters (3,200 square feet). Eight market installations and some cars were destroyed.
About 30 pavilions were damaged, along with 20 shops, an administrative building, an apartment building and some power lines, according to Ukraine’s general prosecutor’s office.
The attack came as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Kyiv, where he was expected to announce more than $1 billion in new American funding for Ukraine in the 18-month-old war.
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Associated Press Writer Hanna Arhirova in Kyiv contributed to this report.