Sat. Feb 24th, 2024

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KYIV — Members of Ukraine’s 128th Mountain Assault Brigade gathered Friday morning for a medal ceremony close to the entrance line within the southeastern area of Zaporizhzhia — persevering with a navy custom relationship again to Soviet occasions, which Ukrainian officers had sustained to prop up morale amongst exhausted troops.

“The Soviet period got here again,” stated one member of the 128th Brigade, who spoke on the situation of anonymity to explain delicate occasions. “It resembled scenes from Russian propaganda movies about World Warfare II, the place troopers stand in rows, wanting all glamorous.”

However as an alternative of celebrating the fighters’ bravery and repair, the award ceremony changed into a massacre. A Russian missile strike killed at the very least 19 troopers in attendance, together with a number of high-ranking officers and a few of the brigade’s greatest warriors. Many had eliminated their helmets for the proceedings and suffered head accidents. Dozens of others have been wounded.

“When the assault occurred, it was troublesome to say how many individuals have been injured or killed,” stated a second brigade member, who spoke to his colleagues after the incident and was additionally granted anonymity. “For the time being after the shelling, 21 our bodies have been counted. Whether or not everybody survived within the hospital is unknown.”

The assault on the 128th Brigade has unleashed a wave of public criticism on social media uncommon for Ukraine — a society that instinctively performs down battlefield losses out of patriotism and concern of offering gasoline to Russia’s propaganda machine.

Certainly, initially there was no public announcement of the lethal incident, which occurred within the village of Zarichne, about 20 miles from the entrance line.

Information of the missile strike started to filter out on social media afterward Friday and thru the weekend.

By Sunday, Ukrainian information retailers have been reporting the assault, and Ukrainian Protection Minister Rustem Umerov stated a “tragedy” had struck the brigade, however he didn’t present any particulars. Later, the 128th Brigade printed the demise toll on its Fb web page.

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The terrible toll from the ceremony, which was known as in honor of Ukrainian Missile Pressure and Artillery Day, has raised searing questions on why such a big public occasion was held in a location that might simply be seen by Russian drones and was nicely inside vary of Russian missiles.

A Russian missile, two by some accounts, struck the gathering 10 minutes after the ceremony started at about 10 a.m.

Typically such medal ceremonies are small, with maybe 30 individuals in attendance, and happen in a well-protected bunker or trench. Friday’s gathering, nonetheless, occurred in an open space and concerned almost 100 individuals, together with many who weren’t receiving medals, brigade members stated.

“They gathered individuals from all of the models — the most effective individuals,” stated a Ukrainian serviceman with information of what occurred. “There have been 43 on the checklist [of those to receive medals].”

“The truth is, there have been many extra individuals, as a result of they needed to be transported there, and there have been about 20 automobiles,” he stated.

On Monday, Ukraine’s State Bureau of Investigation stated it was opening a felony inquiry into the circumstances of the assault, primarily based on the crime of “negligent perspective of a navy official to service.”

The primary brigade member stated the placement of the ceremony was “continually inside the vary of ballistic missile strikes and the whole lot else that flies from afar.”

The missile struck a courtyard in a constructing the place the ceremony was happening and the highway outdoors.

Noting the numerous head wounds, the serviceman stated: “The medics stated they’d not seen one thing like this because the starting of the full-scale warfare.”

Russian missile strikes brigade in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine says

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has talked about the ceremony strike repeatedly in latest days, expressing his condolences to the households of the lifeless. It was “a tragedy that might have been prevented,” Zelensky stated in his Sunday night deal with.

On Monday, the president personally introduced that the brigade commander, Dmytro Lysiuk, had been suspended whereas the investigation continues.

“The entire scenario is being analyzed minute by minute,” Zelensky stated. “And will probably be discovered who precisely violated the foundations on the protection of individuals within the space accessible to enemy aerial reconnaissance. There will probably be no avoidance of duty.”

How the Russians knew to focus on the ceremony is a major query, brigade members stated.

“It’s nonetheless unclear what precisely occurred — whether or not it was the locals who known as and reported {that a} bunch of individuals had gathered or that there was a leak of knowledge from the inner headquarters of the brigades,” the primary brigade member stated.

However the strike needed to be deliberate upfront, he stated. “You possibly can’t launch a missile in two minutes or in 15 — when the enemy aimed a missile there, he was nicely conscious that there was lots of management and it could be a fairly large hit,” he stated.

There have been additionally conflicting reviews of who deliberate the ceremony and what time it was supposed to begin. Some stated the occasion was delayed by half-hour, leaving the troopers standing within the courtyard for an prolonged interval. Lysiuk, the brigade commander, arrived on the ceremony late — minutes after the missile struck, the second brigade member stated.

“Everyone seems to be offended on the command,” the second brigade member stated. “They might have given an order to maneuver the whole lot to a different location or some shelter. Transfer the whole lot and conduct the ceremony there.

“Why this didn’t occur, I don’t know,” he stated. “It’s simply navy stupidity.”

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Nevertheless, even after the assault, some officers defended the observe of awarding medals close to the fight zone. Former deputy protection minister Hanna Maliar stated the ceremonies have been a “crucial half” of navy tradition.

“I actually have had the glory of awarding ministerial and state awards to our troopers on the entrance strains — it is a very thrilling second for everybody,” Maliar wrote on the Telegram messaging platform. Such occasions are particularly significant, she added, as a result of “this occurs within the presence of brothers in arms, and never alone.”

The Russians might have discovered concerning the ceremony from “an inadvertent leakage of knowledge” brought on by “the human issue,” Maliar wrote.

“Because of the truth that the full-scale warfare has been happening for greater than a yr, the sense of hazard has light for a lot of,” she wrote. “It’s troublesome for an individual to continually be in a state of elevated consideration and focus on the threat of demise.”

The serviceman, nonetheless, stated that the observe of Soviet-style ceremonies should finish instantly. “Troopers and navy, officers are afraid that this is not going to be accomplished and all of it can occur once more, God forbid,” he stated.

The serviceman stated that if the family members of the troopers had not “raised a cry” on social media after the assault, “then nobody would have identified.”

After the strike, Viktor Mykyta, the governor of the southwestern Transcarpathia area the place the 128th Brigade is normally primarily based, introduced a three-day mourning interval. On Monday, residents of the area’s two largest cities, Uzhgorod and Mukachevo, held candlelight vigils for the victims.

The 128th Mountain Brigade attracts its members from throughout Ukraine, nonetheless. On Wednesday, dozens gathered at a church in central Kyiv to attend the funeral of Mykyta Vlaskov, 25, who died within the strike.

Among the many mourners have been a gaggle of Vlaskov’s schoolmates, who had identified one another since sixth grade. Oleksii Herasymchuk, 25, stated the buddies met Vlaskov each time he got here residence from the entrance. The final time was Aug. 18, he stated.

Herasymchuk stated 10 of their classmates have been a part of a gaggle chat on Telegram and that Vlaskov normally “responded fairly fast to my messages.”

“I’m monitoring quite a few information channels, so instantly texted him after the information concerning the assault on his brigade,” Herasymchuk stated. “He didn’t reply and we have been on the lookout for any information on him since Friday.” On Sunday, Vlaskov’s mom advised his associates that he had died.

“He was proficient, enjoyable, and trendy, really. He used to color,” Herasymchuk stated. The assault, he added, “just isn’t solely a tragedy for this brigade, however all of Ukraine.”

Andriy Sholtes in Uzhgorod, Ukraine, contributed to this report.

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