Ukrainian army used Tochka-U rocket in fatal Donetsk missile attack, local expert claims
Officials in the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) have claimed that a missile allegedly launched by Ukrainian forces on Monday was aimed at a residential area in their capital city, but was intercepted by air defense systems before reaching its target. However, a portion of the rocket still ended up falling on a densely populated area of Donetsk, killing more than 20 people, some of whom were children, and leaving at least 36 injured.
Kiev has denied responsibility for the attack, which has been barely reported by Western media, insisting it was “unmistakably a Russian rocket” and that “there’s no point talking about it.” However, reports from the ground suggest that the downed missile was a Tochka-U rocket, commonly used by the Ukrainian military.
This type of missile, dubbed SS-21 Scara by NATO, is a mobile launch system developed by the Soviet Union in the 1970s. Russia has phased out its use, in favor of the newer and far superior 9K270 Iskander, which was introduced in the mid 2000s.
RT spoke to local lawyer and war crime investigator, Ivan Kopyl, who’s been working in the area collecting evidence and testimonies from the people who witnessed the attack. Since 2015, he has been attached to the local public organization “Spravedlivaya Zaschita” and some of his previous findings were sent to the European Court of Human Rights in 2020.
Kopyl says that there is no doubt in his mind that the strike was carried out with a Tochka-U missile, and that there is plenty of evidence to support his claim.
“We went to the area of yesterday’s strike to observe the impact sites. The warhead of a Tochka-U missile contains 50 cassettes of cluster munitions,” he explained, on Tuesday. “We managed to find 28 traces of cluster explosions on the soil.”
He went on to say that much of the fragments may have ended up on rooftops or even have been already trampled or cleaned up. Kopyl estimates that most, if not all, of the cassettes in the rocket went off, contrary to the claims by DPR officials who state that only one of the rocket’s cassettes exploded.
While Kopyl was not able to confirm or deny assertions that the projectile was shot down by air defense systems, as its remains had already been cleared out by the time he arrived at the scene, he maintains that it’s undeniable that the rocket was being aimed at civilians.
“I think it is absolutely clear that the missile was aimed at a densely-populated civilian area where there were certainly no military targets present. Because the rocket hit Pushkin Boulevard - the central street in Donetsk - where people go for walks and where there are only a bunch of cafes. The courtyard of an art museum was damaged from the back. There was also damage to a yard where there are two kindergartens - there were several craters there. And then, of course, there was damage to that street near the bank where there is always a queue of mostly elderly people who are trying to get their pensions from the ATM.”
Surveillance footage from the bank has recently been making the rounds on social media, showing in gruesome detail how several people standing in line were caught in the blast, with some seemingly killed on the spot.
Kopyl claims that another piece of evidence indicating it was a Tochka-U missile strike is the characteristic blast pattern that has been left in the wake of the attack.
“When it comes to the traces of the explosion, they usually form a sort of circle. A Tochka-U missile changes its orientation just before landing, so after it flies on a trajectory it makes a turn and falls vertically down before detonating at a certain height. The fragments then shower the surface in a radius of approximately 150 meters.”
Looking at a map, detailing the impact site, Kopyl says it completely falls in line with a Tochka-U strike - forming a circle of a corresponding radius, with the blast managing to strike numerous people.
He added that there are also characteristic traces in the soil and the asphalt, indicating multiple striking fragments. But one of the biggest giveaways, he says, are the white ribbons that have been found throughout the impact area.
“Several white ribbons have been found at the site - these are stabilizers for cluster submunitions. In missile systems like the Uragan and Smerch (the BM-27 and BM-30 rocket launcher systems used by the Russian military) the stabilizers are made out of metal, but the Tochka-U uses white strips of fabric instead. They are characteristic of the Tochka-U and are often found at impact sites.
Kopyl also mentioned the cluster fragments themselves, many of which are littered throughout the impact site. These small metal squares, about the size of a thumb nail, are the primary striking element used in cluster bombs such as the Tochka-U and fly at incredible speeds, penetrating everything in their path.
Kopyl says that a prime example of just how deadly these projectiles are can be found at the local Writer’s Union office, which was also caught in the blast. The fragments managed to pierce thick books stacked on shelves throughout the office, as well as radiators, batteries and walls. He says that if anyone had been in the office at the moment of the blast they would’ve had no place to hide, adding that, aside from the people who were outside during the shelling, many of those who were injured in the strike were actually indoors, inside cars and public buses.
The strike ultimately took the lives of over 20 people, and many more have been left injured.
Given the wide blast radius, a lot of people remained unaccounted for quite some time after the attack, and Kopyl says he spent the entire night trying to help his friends locate their mother. They eventually found her the day after the shelling but, unfortunately, she had already been pronounced dead.
Those who survived were left with severe injuries caused by the flurry of deadly shrapnel and some may have to live with pieces of metal in their bodies for the rest of their days.
“Today I got the chance to talk to a woman, who, thank God, managed to survive this shelling.” says Kopyl. “She went shopping that day and was coming home via Pushkin Boulevard. She heard a loud bang in the sky and saw the cassettes falling apart. She was saved by the fact that she immediately laid down on the ground and covered her head with her hands. Her hands are now severely injured, but her head remained unscathed. She survived and is now recovering in the hospital. The doctors say that a piece of shrapnel is currently stuck somewhere near her spine, but they are currently unable to remove it. She might have to live with it inside her for the rest of her life.”
When asked who could be responsible for this attack, Kopyl said that it is impossible to determine where the rocket actually came from, as it can change trajectory mid-flight and could have been shot from as far as 120 kilometers away, but pointed out that it’s common knowledge that the Tochka-U system is currently being used by only one army - the Ukrainian military. He added that Russia abandoned this system long ago and that the DPR has also never used it or felt the need to, given support from Russia.
But while no one has yet claimed responsibility for the Tochka-U missile strike upon the civilian population of Donetsk, Ukrainian officials denounced the whole matter as another example of a so-called ‘Russian provocation’, while Western media outlets have seemingly paid little to no attention to the tragic incident.
Meanwhile, Russia’s Defense Ministry has stated that “The use of such weapons in a city where there are no firing positions of the armed forces is a war crime,” while Russia’s investigative committee has officially opened a criminal inquiry into the incident. Russia has also submitted details about the shelling to the United Nations Security Council, condemning it as a violation of international human rights, adding that Tochka-U rockets are not in service with the Russian military.