The Sept. 6 missile strike on Kostiantynivka in eastern Ukraine was one of the deadliest in the country in months, killing at least 15 civilians and injuring more than 30 others. The weapon’s payload of metal fragments struck a market, piercing windows and walls and wounding some victims beyond recognition.
Less than two hours later, President Volodymyr Zelensky blamed Russian “terrorists” for the attack, and many media outlets followed suit. Throughout its invasion of Ukraine, Russia has repeatedly and systematically attacked civilians and struck schools, markets and residences as a deliberate tactic to instill fear in the populace. In Kostiantynivka in April, they shelled homes and a preschool, killing six.
But evidence collected and analyzed by The New York Times, including missile fragments, satellite imagery, witness accounts and social media posts, strongly suggests the catastrophic strike was the result of an errant Ukrainian air defense missile fired by a Buk launch system.
The attack appears to have been a tragic mishap. Air defense experts say missiles like the one that hit the market can go off course for a variety of reasons, including an electronic malfunction or a guidance fin that is damaged or sheared off at the time of launch.