Missile Strike Kills 11 in Restaurant in Kramatorsk, Ukraine

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Mykyta Karagodin and his friends had just gotten their mango-passion fruit drinks and placed their dinner order on the terrace of the Ria Lounge on Tuesday night — a lazy summer evening at a popular restaurant in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk. Then they heard a whistle.

“First, we thought it was a plane, nothing too serious. But then someone screamed ‘Down on the floor!’” said Mr. Karagodin, 23. “Then there was an explosion.”

A Russian missile landed a direct hit on the restaurant at about 7:30 p.m., the dinnertime rush, when the place was bustling: A young mother with a baby in a stroller, a woman making kissing noises at a husky dog, filming a video of herself on the terrace. The blast wave threw diners and workers against walls, furniture and each other, battering and slicing them with shards of glass and other debris.

By Wednesday evening, the death toll from the attack had climbed to 11 people, including 14-year-old twin sisters and another teen. The Ukrainian authorities said that 56 other people had been wounded. At least one person was believed to be still under the rubble.

In the confused moments after the detonation, Mr. Karagodin recalled, a voice shouted for people to head to the basement. He and his friends pulled wounded and disoriented people downstairs with them.

“The first floor was completely gone,” he said on Wednesday afternoon, waiting to be released from a hospital after receiving treatment for shrapnel wounds and a concussion. “We were all very lucky.”

Rescuers worked through the day, digging out the remains of the restaurant in search of victims or possible survivors. The terrace where Mr. Karagodin and his friends were waiting for salads was a mess of overturned black and white sofas, near a jumble of jagged blocks of concrete. The restaurant’s owner paced while talking on her phone.

As a crane lifted debris off a large pile of twisted rubble, distraught friends and relatives of people still missing waited anxiously behind a police ribbon across the street. When a body was pulled from the rubble, people strained to see whether it was their loved one. But each time, the body bag was zipped tightly, and an emergency car quickly took it to the morgue.

One woman was awaiting news of her niece. A man was seeking information about his brother-in-law. When emergency workers came out to take breaks, pouring water onto their heads to wash off the dust, people rushed over to ask for updates — with one man showing a photo of his missing relative on his phone.

Kramatorsk lies just 20 miles from the front lines and the devastated city of Bakhmut, in the Donetsk region — near enough to be a frequent target of Russian missiles and a way station for troops. But it is also just far enough from the fighting to tempt people into going about their normal daily lives, especially in recent weeks, when the weather turned warm and strikes were relatively rare.

Ria Lounge, known to many as Ria Pizza, was a long-running haunt, particularly popular in the summer because of its covered outdoor seating. It is close to the Hotel Kramatorsk, which was badly damaged in a Russian attack last summer. The restaurant had closed after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began in February last year, but reopened several months later.

The restaurant is often full of local residents, foreign journalists, aid workers and Ukrainian soldiers.

“Me and my friends went there all the time,” Mr. Karagodin said, describing the staff as young and friendly. “Every evening we would rest there, every evening there were people, everyone with kids.”

“It was such a nice evening” on Tuesday, said Oleksandra, 40, a local journalist who was not at the restaurant but lives nearby. “A typical summer evening: warm and quiet.”

Russia’s Defense Ministry said in a statement that it had struck a Ukrainian Army command post, making no mention of a restaurant or civilians, and a Kremlin spokesman repeated Russia’s frequent, false claim that it does not hit civilian targets. It was not clear whether a military command post existed nearby, though soldiers are often housed in the neighborhood when they are rotated away from the front.

The medical director of the local hospital in Kramatorsk, Hanna Scherbak, said 49 wounded people were admitted there after the attack, suffering from head injuries, shrapnel wounds and broken limbs, including one who later died.

“We didn’t have any military people. These are all civilians,” she said.

Ukraine’s intelligence agency, the S.B.U., said it had detained a man who was accused of helping direct the missile strike. It said the man — described as a Kramatorsk resident working for a local gas transportation company — had sent video footage of the restaurant to Russian military intelligence.

At the restaurant, the explosion started a fire. Diners and onlookers scrambled to reach the wounded through piles of tangled and charred metal, concrete and broken glass. Some men took off their shirts to use as bandages, while others wrapped bloodied heads and checked the pulse of a woman sitting motionless on a couch.

By late Wednesday, rain had driven away most of the bystanders at the scene, but about 20 people still stood across the road, behind the police tape, seemingly rendered silent by fatigue and anxiety. They had been there all day: Used paper cups, empty bottles of water and energy drinks were piled up around their makeshift waiting area.

Friends and relatives of someone still trapped under the rubble stared at the backs of emergency workers clearing debris from the restaurant. One young man, with a blue rubber glove on his hand and fresh white bandages on his leg, crossed the police tape and walked toward the wreckage. A police officer gently escorted him back to the waiting group, where the young man hugged a young woman as she quietly cried on his shoulder.

A few feet away, a middle-aged man paced back and forth.

“Let them all be alive there,” a red-faced woman in the group said to him.

“Let them all be alive,” he echoed.

Thomas Gibbons-Neff contributed reporting from Kramatorsk.



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