A New York Times investigation has concluded that a missile strike that left 16 people dead in the town of Kostiantynivka in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region on 6 September was likely a case of friendly fire.
Analysis of missile fragments, satellite images, witness accounts and social media posts collectively indicated that the missile used in the attack was launched from a Ukrainian Buk air defence system, The New York Times wrote on Tuesday.
The crater and the destruction extending from the point of impact shown in video surveillance footage was consistent with a missile coming from the northwest, according to an explosives expert and an analysis by The New York Times, indicating that the missile was launched from Ukrainian-controlled territory rather than from behind Russian lines.
Minutes prior to the strike, Ukrainian forces launched two surface-to-air missiles towards the Russian lines from the town of Druzhkivka located 16 km northwest of Kostiantynivka, according to NYT reporters in Druzhkivka at the time and who recorded the first launch in a voice message.
The residents of Druzhkivka said the noise of the launches was more intense than usual for them that day, similar to what had been reported from past launches of Buk missiles.
Following the attack, Ukrainian government officials claimed that a missile fired by Russian forces from an S-300 air defence system was to blame for the attack. However, the warhead that exploded in Kostiantynivka was not that of an S-300 missile, The New York Times stressed, and fragments found at the scene were consistent in size and shape with the 9M38 missiles fired by Buk systems, a weapon used both by Russia and Ukraine.
The New York Times experts believe the missile could have malfunctioned and crashed, causing major burn damage due to the unspent fuel in its motor. The Ukrainian authorities reportedly tried to prevent NYT journalists from accessing the missile debris in the immediate aftermath of the strike, although the reporters eventually managed to reach the scene where they interviewed witnesses and collected fragments of the missile.
Responding to the NYT findings on Tuesday, Ukraine’s Security Service continued to insist that a Russian S-300 missile struck Kostiantynivka, judging by the “debris of the missile retrieved from the explosion site”.
The Kostiantynivka explosion claimed the lives of 16 civilians and injured 33 others on 6 September. Russian open-source investigative outfit Conflict Intelligence Team first reported that the missile that hit the eastern Ukrainian town had most likely come from Ukrainian-controlled territory on 7 September.