KYIV, Ukraine — A Russian rocket struck a village cafe and store in eastern Ukraine on Thursday, killing at least 51 civilians in one of the deadliest attacks in the war in months, according to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other top officials in Kyiv.
The attack came as Zelenskyy attended a summit of about 50 European leaders in Spain to drum up support from Ukraine’s allies.
He denounced the strike in the village of Hroza as a “demonstrably brutal Russian crime” and “a completely deliberate act of terrorism.”
Presidential chief of staff Andrii Yermak and Kharkiv Gov. Oleh Syniehubov said a 6-year-old boy was among the dead, adding that seven other people were wounded. Hroza, which had a population of about 500 before the war, is located in the northeastern Kharkiv region.
About 60 people were in the cafe, attending a wake after a funeral, said Internal Affairs Minister Ihor Klymenko, who provided the death toll.
According to preliminary information from Kyiv, the village was struck by an Iskander missile. Emergency crews searched the smoldering rubble of damaged buildings. Ukrainian prosecutors released photos showing bloodied bodies.
Hroza and other parts of the eastern Kharkiv region were seized by Russia early in the war and recaptured by Ukraine in September 2022.
The village is only 19 miles west of Kupiansk, a key area of the Russian military effort. Zelenskyy had visited the area Tuesday to meet with troops and inspect equipment supplied by the West.
‘Russian Terror Must Be Stopped,’ Says Zelenskyy
On Thursday, Zelenskyy was at a summit of the European Political Community in Granada, Spain, where he asked for more Western support, saying that “Russian terror must be stopped.”
“Russia needs this and similar terrorist attacks for only one thing: to make its genocidal aggression the new norm for the whole world,” he said in a statement posted on his Telegram channel. “Now we are talking with European leaders, in particular, about strengthening our air defense, strengthening our soldiers, giving our country protection from terror. And we will respond to the terrorists.”
“The key for us, especially before winter, is to strengthen air defense, and there is already a basis for new agreements with partners,” he told the group, which was formed in the wake of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Last winter, Russia targeted Ukraine’s energy system and other vital infrastructure in a steady barrage of missile and drone attacks, triggering continuous power outages across the country. Ukraine’s power system has shown a high degree of resilience and flexibility, helping alleviate the damage, but there have been concerns that Russia will again ramp up its strikes on power facilities as winter draws nearer.
Zelenskyy noted the Granada summit will also focus on “joint work for global food security and protection of freedom of navigation” in the Black Sea, where the Russian military has targeted Ukrainian ports after Moscow’s withdrawal from a U.N.-sponsored grain deal designed to ensure safe grain exports from the invaded country’s ports.
The U.K. Foreign Office cited intelligence suggesting that Russia may lay sea mines in the approach to Ukrainian ports to target civilian shipping and blame it on Ukraine.
“Russia almost certainly wants to avoid openly sinking civilian ships, instead falsely laying blame on Ukraine for any attacks against civilian vessels in the Black Sea,” it said, adding that the U.K. was working with Ukraine to help improve the safety of shipping.
Speaking in Granada, Zelenskyy emphasized the need to preserve the European unity in the face of Russian disinformation and to remain strong amid what he described as a “political storm” in the United States.
Asked if he was worried that support for Ukraine could falter in the U.S. Congress, the Ukrainian president stressed that his visit to Washington last month made him confident of strong backing by both the Biden administration and Congress.