On June 27, Russian missiles hit Kramatorsk, a Ukrainian government-controlled city in eastern Ukraine, near Russian-occupied territory.
The strike hit a crowded restaurant, killing 12 people and injuring dozens more.
On Twitter, an anonymous user under the name “US Civil Defense News” falsely claimed that Ukraine had launched the attack on its own city. While the Twitter account is only eight months old and has less than 7,000 followers, that tweet has since become viral, with more than a million views and about 4,000 reactions.
Twitter flagged the post with a false content warning after other users disputed its accuracy. The “US Civil Defense News” Twitter feed primarily posts pro-Russian and anti-Western conspiracy theories.
It was not just Twitter users, but Moscow’s own top propagandist, Olga Skabeyeva, who confirmed that Russia had fired the missiles on Kramatorsk. She claimed the strike was on “legitimate military targets.”
And Dmitry Peskov, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s press secretary, responded to the international outrage over Russia striking Ukrainian civilians in Kramatorsk.
"The Russian Federation does not strike at civilian infrastructure,” Peskov said. “The strikes are at objects that are in one way or another connected with the military infrastructure.”
That is false.
Ukrainian police said Russia hit Kramatorsk with two Iskander missiles. Independent observers confirmed Russia launched the missiles.
The primary missile strike hit Ria Lounge, a popular downtown Kramatorsk pizza restaurant frequented by journalists, aid workers and Ukrainian soldiers.
As of June 29, Ukraine’s State Emergency Service said 12 people had been killed and 60 injured in the strike. It confirmed that the Russian missile strike on Ria Lounge killed 14-year-old twin sisters and a 17-year-old girl.
Numerous residential buildings, schools and other structures were also damaged in the attack.
The second missile strike hit a private home on the outskirts of the city, injuring five.
Under the laws of war, the fact that soldiers have frequented Ria Lounge as customers does not make it a legitimate military target.
Ukraine is a country at war, and military personal do frequent civilian establishments.
The U.K. Telegraph’s Colin Freeman, who left the restaurant shortly before the attack, summarized that reality:
“[T]roops can be found in just about every dining establishment in Ukraine; in a war that has required so many civilians to take up arms, those in uniform don’t just live in barracks.”
Freeman said it appeared “certain” the strike was intentional. He cited a senior Ukrainian military source, who said Russia carried out “a deliberate attack on a civilian object” as part of its “missile terror campaign.”
That echoed a July 2022 description of Russia’s war tactics by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who called Russia’s systematic targeting of civilian areas “missile terror.”
Freeman’s military source said the strike on Ria Lounge was intended to help compensate for Moscow’s “humiliation” over the short-lived mutiny launched by Wagner Group mercenary forces on June 23.
Ukraine’s security service said it had arrested an alleged agent who gathered information about Ria Lounge prior to the attack.
Still, Ria Lounge was being used for civilian, not military purposes, a fact attested to by those on the scene.
“That was just a restaurant full of people,” Wojciech Grzedzinski, a news photographer who was inside the restaurant at the time of the strike, wrote on Instagram.
The Washington Post noted Peskov’s claim was “flatly contradicted by the gruesome scenes at Ria, where workers and civilians were the primary victims.”
This is not the first time Russia has been accused of targeting civilians in Kramatorsk.
The Kremlin systematically and falsely claims it only targets military and energy facilities in Ukraine.
Russia has repeatedly targeted civilian infrastructure since invading Ukraine on February 24, 2022.
On October 10, 2022, Russia struck the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, with dozens of missiles, striking museums, an office building, a pedestrian bridge, a park, a busy intersection and other civilian areas.
That same month, Amnesty International said Russian forces were intentionally targeting Ukraine’s energy infrastructure to “deprive civilians in Ukraine of heat, electricity and water as the cold grip of winter approaches.”
Polygraph.info previously reported how indiscriminate bombing of civilian targets has been a signature Russian tactic in its wars in Chechnya and intervention in the Syrian civil war.
Infamously, in March 2022, the Russian air force bombed a theater in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol where women and children were sheltering. The attack killed hundreds, according to some estimates.
That same month, a Russian airstrike destroyed a maternity ward in Mariupol.
In June 2022, a Russian missile attack on the Amstor Mall in the central Ukrainian city of Kremenchuk killed at least 20 people and injured dozens of others.
In March, a United Nations report said more than 90% of Ukraine’s civilian casualties had been caused by missiles, explosive weapons or mines and explosive remnants of war.