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Zelensky says safety rules ‘violated’ in Ukrainian military ceremony hit by deadly Russian strike

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said safety rules had been “violated,” leaving soldiers and civilians exposed to a deadly Russian missile strike on a village in the Zaporizhzhia region, which he described as “a tragedy that could have been avoided.”

A Ukrainian military brigade said Monday that 19 of its soldiers had been killed last week in an air strike during an award ceremony near the frontlines in Zaporizhzhia.

“The whole situation is being analyzed minute by minute,” Zelensky said Monday in an address to the nation. “It will be found out who exactly violated the rules on the safety of people in the area accessible to enemy aerial reconnaissance. There will be no avoidance of responsibility.”

Ukrainian Defense Minister Rustem Umerov on Sunday ordered a criminal investigation into the attack. “We must make every effort to protect our people and give honest answers to the relatives and friends of the fallen soldiers,” Umerov said in a statement on Facebook.

Zelensky visited a training center at an unspecified location to mark the Day of Missile Forces and Artillery. - Handout/Presidential Office of Ukraine
Zelensky visited a training center at an unspecified location to mark the Day of Missile Forces and Artillery. - Handout/Presidential Office of Ukraine

The strike occurred as Ukraine marked the Day of Missile Forces and Artillery on Friday, a celebration of what Zelensky described as “those warriors who are the backbone of all the Defense and Security Forces of Ukraine.”

In a separate ceremony on Friday not related to the missile strike, Zelensky presented awards to Ukrainian soldiers at an unspecified location, according to a statement from his office.

Ukraine’s State Investigation Bureau (DBR) said it had launched the investigation “into the actions of military officials who organized the event dedicated to the Missile and Artillery Forces Day near the frontline.”

“Criminal proceedings have been initiated in response to this tragedy,” Zelensky confirmed in an address to the nation on Monday evening. “The investigation must provide honest answers to the families of the fallen soldiers and the society about how this tragedy occurred and whether any improper orders were issued.”

According to Ukraine’s Armed Forces, Russian forces launched an Iskander-M missile at troops from the 128th Separate Mountain Assault Brigade, killing soldiers and injuring local residents.

In the immediate wake of the strike, Ukrainian parliamentarian Mykhailo Volynets said 28 people died and 53 were injured as a result of the missile attack. He did not specify how many of the casualties were civilians and how many were soldiers.

In a statement on Telegram Monday, the brigade said 19 of its soldiers were killed. CNN could not independently verify the number of casualties.

Zelensky said the brigade commander had been suspended and would remain so during the ongoing investigation.

“The main thing is to establish the complete truth about what happened and prevent such incidents from happening again. Every soldier in the combat zone – in the enemy’s line of fire and aerial reconnaissance – knows how to behave in the open, how to ensure safety,” Zelensky said.

The 128th brigade has been used in combat operations in eastern Ukraine since 2014, and has been fighting in the south of the country since Ukraine launched its counteroffensive in early June, as it seeks to reclaim territory taken by Russian troops in the February 2022 invasion.

Ukrainian forces said they had penetrated the “first line” of Russian strongholds in Zaporizhzhia region in September, but the progress of the counteroffensive has been slow, as Ukraine’s forces have been rebuffed by heavily fortified Russian defenses.

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