Russia’s killing of an innocent girl pushing a pram is designed to show nowhere is safe

Fear deepens as missile strikes on civilian targets suggest the Kremlin may be pursuing a wider form of psychological warfare

. 15 July 2022

For Irina Dmitrieva, her four-year-old daughter Liza was the centre of her world.

For Russian military commanders, she was merely collateral damage in their latest deadly assault in Ukraine.

Liza was killed on Thursday by a missile attack as she walked back from her speech therapy class with her mother across Victory Square in central Vinnytsia.

But just why the Kremlin opted to target a town in the west of Ukraine, hundreds of miles behind the frontline, has perplexed observers.

Liza, four, was killed by a missile attack as she walked back from her speech therapy class with her mother
Liza, four, was killed by a missile attack as she walked back from her speech therapy class with her mother

Vinnytsia is a city of 370,000 people that is famed for its relaxed provincial vibe and position looking over the Southern Bug River. It is much closer to Romania and Moldova than to the distant Donbas region, the latest focus of fighting between Ukraine and Russia.

And yet now the war has come to central Vinnytsia. At least 23 people died in the attack that killed Liza. Irina, her mother, lost a leg.

Thousands of civilians killed

The United Nations has estimated that nearly 5,000 civilians have been killed since Mr Putin ordered his invasion of Ukraine on Feb 24, mainly from indiscriminate shelling of towns around the frontlines.

But over the past three weeks, missile strikes on civilian targets far from the Donbas suggest that the Kremlin may be pursuing a wider form of psychological warfare.

At least 23 people were killed in the rocket strike with emergency services still searching for missing people
At least 23 people were killed in the rocket strike with emergency services still searching for missing people CREDIT: ROMAN PILIPEY/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

missile strike on an apartment block in Kyiv on June 26 killed one person early in the morning when most people were still sleeping. The next day, in Kremenchuk, further down the Dnieper River, two missiles hit a shopping centre on a sunny afternoon, the busiest part of the day, and killed 16 people.

Missiles then hit two residential blocks in a resort town near Odesa, killing 21 people and at least 44 people were killed in the small town of Chars Yar, in Donbas, last weekend when two Russian missiles destroyed an apartment block.

Since the end of June, there have also been missile hits on universities, hotels and apartment blocks in towns across Ukraine that lie outside the main warzone including Mykolaiv, Kharkiv, Zaporizhzhya and Odesa.

The Russian ministry of defence has insisted that it only targets military sites and after the strikes on Vinnytsia it said that high precision missiles had hit the “House of Officers”.

Technically the Russian ministry of defence is correct. The Kremlin’s missiles did hit the House of Officers in Vinnytsia but it is a Soviet-era concert hall. It had no military value, only a cultural one.

The Russian ministry of defence insists it only targets military sites
The Russian ministry of defence insists it only targets military sitesCREDIT: Efrem Lukatsky/AP

A pop band led by Roxolana, one of Ukraine’s best-known singers, had been practising for a concert this weekend when the missile struck. Several members of the band were injured in the attack. One was killed.

‘Russia is a terrorist state’

“This is terrorism,” said Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister. “The deliberate murder of civilians to spread fear. Russia is a terrorist state.”

“This was a terror bombing, a deliberate attempt to make nowhere in Ukraine feel safe for Ukrainian civilians by Russia,” said James Rushton, an independent security analyst based in the UK.

Ukrainian officials have said that this psychological warfare is designed to undermine morale, to show people that the Kremlin can deal out death, randomly and suddenly, no matter where they live in Ukraine.

Not everybody agrees, though. A Russian defence analyst based in Moscow who is generally considered to be even-handed said that faulty guidance may be the reason why missiles hit the concert hall. “The US experienced some of the same problems in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said.

But Russia has form for viewing civilians as collateral damage and as a pressure point to shift momentum during war.

In Chechnya in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and in Syria in 2015 and 2016, the Russian military bombed towns into rubble and civilians became targets.

And Russia has already been accused of war crimes in Ukraine. Its soldiers tortured, murdered and raped people who had lived in commuter towns north of Kyiv when it occupied them in March, it has been claimed.  

Liza died in the missile strike which hit a car park in Vinnytsia on Thursday
Liza died in the missile strike which hit a car park in Vinnytsia on Thursday

It has also been accused of forcibly sending hundreds of thousands of refugees into Russiafrom occupied areas of Donbas as well as bombing train stations full of refugees and hospitals.

Now the Kremlin has started to spread fear deeper into Ukraine.

That fear no doubt hangs heavy over Vinnytsia this weekend in the aftermath of the strikes which killed Liza and 22 others.

On Instagram, a video uploaded just hours before the first missile landed showed Liza smiling as she pushed her pram. A later photo showed the toddler’s tiny crumpled body lying next to the same pram. Her blood had stained the pavement.

The bloodied stroller lies by the road
The bloodied stroller lies by the road CREDIT: Efrem Lukatsky/AP

A concert planned for the end of July in the House of Officers in Vinnytsia had promised an evening of Ukrainian patriotic songs that “no Russian will be able to prevent”. The House of Officers is now a charred ruin and the concert has been cancelled.

3 comments

  1. When will the world finally see what Russia really is? It is a criminal entity and terrorist state. It should be treated as such.

    Liked by 1 person

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