Russian strike on market in eastern Ukrainian kills 16 and wounds dozens, officials say

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy condemned the attack on a civilian target as U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken arrived in Ukraine, where he was expected to announce more than $1 billion in new American funding

Police officers and rescuers inspect the site of a Russian military strike in Kostiantynivka, Donetsk region, Ukraine, September 6, 2023.
Police officers and rescuers inspect the site of a Russian military strike in Kostiantynivka, Donetsk region, Ukraine, September 6, 2023.INTERIOR MINISTRY OF UKRAINE (via REUTERS)

A Russian missile struck an outdoor market in eastern Ukraine on Wednesday, killing at least 16 people and wounding dozens, officials said. The deadly attack came as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Kyiv and was expected to announce more than $1 billion in new American funding for Ukraine in the 18-month-old war.

Associated Press journalists at the site of the attack in the city of Kostiantynivka in the Donetsk region saw covered bodies on the ground and emergency workers extinguishing fires at market stalls, with blackened and mangled cars nearby.

Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said at least 16 people were killed. Another 31 were wounded, according to the regional prosecutor’s office. The Defense Ministry said the market was hit by a ballistic missile.

Firefighters extinguished blazes that damaged about 30 pavilions at the market, Klymenko said. Crews searched the rubble for any trapped victims.

Twenty shops, power lines, administrative building and the floor of an apartment building were damaged, according to the prosecutor general’s office.

The attack was another grim reminder of the war’s civilian toll. “A regular market. Shops. A pharmacy. People who did nothing wrong,” Zelenskiy said on his official Telegram channel.

“Those who know this place are well aware that it is a civilian area,” Zelenskiy said later at a news conference with visiting Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen. “There aren’t any military units nearby. The strike was deliberate.”

Blinken’s visit was aimed at assessing Ukraine’s three-month-old counteroffensive and signaling continued U.S. backing as some Western allies express worries about Kyiv’s slow progress in driving out Russian forces, according to U.S. officials.

“We want to make sure that Ukraine has what it needs, not only to succeed in the counteroffensive but has what it needs for the long-term, to make sure that it has a strong deterrent,” Blinken said. “We’re also determined to continue to work with our partners as they build and rebuild a strong economy, strong democracy.”

Emergency services work following an attack on the city of Kostiantynivka in eastern Ukraine, September 6, 2023.
Emergency services work following an attack on the city of Kostiantynivka in eastern Ukraine, September 6, 2023.VOLODYMYR ZELENSKIY VIA TELEGRAM ( XXXXXXXX via REUTERS)

Blinken was set to pledge more than $1 billion in new U.S. funding, a senior State Department official said, speaking on condition of anonymity in order to discuss the announcement before it was made.

The money would be for “a range” of investments, the official said, without elaborating.

Roughly $275 million will be military aid, including depleted uranium tank rounds that had been a subject of internal administration debate until Tuesday, according to another U.S. official.

About $175 million of the total will be in the form of weaponry to be provided from Pentagon stockpiles, the official said. Another $100 million will be in the form of grants to allow the Ukrainians to purchase additional arms and equipment, the official said, also on condition of anonymity.

In addition to the military assistance, Blinken is expected to announce nearly $805 million in non-arms-related aid for Ukraine, according to another administration official. That will include $300 million for law enforcement, $206 million in humanitarian aid, $203 million to combat corruption and $90.5 million for demining, the official said.

The package will also include a $5.4 million transfer to Ukraine of frozen Russian oligarch assets, according to the official, who like the others spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of the formal announcement.

The aid announced by Blinken comes from money previously approved by Congress. President Joe Biden has requested another $21 billion in military and humanitarian aid for Ukraine for the final months of 2023, but it’s not clear how much — if any — will be approved. Many Republican lawmakers are wary of providing more aid and the party’s presidential front-runner, former President Donald Trump, has criticized U.S. financial support. Opinion polls also have shown a decline in support for the war by the American public.

Biden and the Pentagon, however, have said repeatedly they they will support Ukraine for as long as it takes. As of Aug. 29, there was approximately $5.75 billion left in the already approved funding for weapons and equipment taken from existing Pentagon stocks.

Blinken was to discuss other issues, including support for Ukraine’s economy, building on his June announcement of $1.3 billion to help Kyiv rebuild, with a focus on modernizing its energy network, which was bombarded by Russia last winter.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that U.S. assistance to Ukraine “can’t influence the course of the special military operation” — Moscow’s euphemism for the war.

Blinken arrived in Kyiv for an overnight visit hours after Russia launched a missile attack on the city.

On the train to Kyiv, Blinken met with Frederiksen, also on an official visit, and thanked her for Denmark’s leadership in training Ukrainian pilots on F-16s and for promising to donate the fighter jets to Ukraine, according to State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller.

Washington officials said there will be discussions of alternative export routes for Ukrainian grain following Russia’s exit from the Black Sea Grain Initiative and its frequent attacks on port facilities in the Odesa region.

Those alternatives may include new overland routes, or ships hugging coastlines to keep out of international waters where they could be targeted by Russia’s navy.

After arriving in Kyiv, Blinken laid a wreath at the city’s Berkovetske cemetery to commemorate Ukrainian troops killed defending the country.

Blinken told Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba that the U.S. has “seen good progress in the counteroffensive. It’s very heartening.”

Meeting with Shmyhal, Blinken said he was in Ukraine “to reaffirm our commitment to stand with you ... to help ensure that you succeed militarily in dealing with the aggression, but also to stand with you to make sure that your efforts to build a strong economy and a strong democracy succeed.”

Shmyhal said Ukraine is grateful the money is coming in the form of grants, not loans that would drive it into debt.

Overnight, Russia fired cruise missiles at Kyiv in its first aerial attack on the capital since Aug. 30, according to Serhii Popko, the head of Kyiv’s regional military administration. Debris from a downed missile caused a fire and damage but no casualties.

In the Odesa region, one person was killed in a Russian missile and drone attack on the port of Izmail that damaged grain elevators, administrative buildings and agricultural enterprises, authorities said.

The trip was Blinken’s fourth to Ukraine since the war began, including one brief excursion over the Polish-Ukrainian border in March 2022, just a month after the Russian invasion. But it will be the first time America’s top diplomat spends the night in Kyiv since January 2022, before the invasion, in what U.S. officials called a signal of American support.

Blinken’s visit comes after some of Ukraine’s allies have privately expressed concern that Ukrainian troops may fail to reach their objectives.

While the U.S. has been concerned by some day-to-day battlefield setbacks, U.S. officials said, they are still generally encouraged by Ukraine’s handling of the military situation, particularly its air defense capabilities in knocking down Russian drones aimed at Kyiv.

Blinken aims to see how the counteroffensive is progressing and what kind of support is needed, including materials to break through Russian defenses with winter approaching. Air defense will also continue to be a priority, the official said.

Western analysts and military officials caution that the counteroffensive’s success is far from certain and that it could take years to rid Ukraine of entrenched, powerfully armed and skilled Russian troops.

Both sides will have to assess their supply shortages, with more battles of attrition likely over the winter. A long war could stretch deep into next year and beyond, according to experts.

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