A Russian missile killed 59 Ukrainian villagers — and divided the survivors

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HROZA, Ukraine — A banner at the bus cease outdoors this grieving village in northeast Ukraine delivers a verdict — and a warning to would-be Russian informants.

“KILLERS HAVE A NAME,” it reads. “KILLED 59 FELLOW VILLAGERS FOR RUSSIAN MONEY.”

Photos present a sufferer’s limp, dirt-caked arms subsequent to a portrait of former native police officer Volodymyr Mamon, the phrase “traitor” stamped in vivid purple letters throughout his face.

Ukraine’s safety companies have accused Mamon and his youthful brother, Dmytro, who each fled to Russia in 2022, of coordinating a Russian missile strike final October on a restaurant internet hosting a funeral reception in Hroza, their hometown, killing 59 — about one-fifth of the inhabitants.

Last week, Ukrainian authorities additionally charged the youthful Mamon brother with treason for voluntarily working for Russian forces once they occupied Hroza and the surrounding space.

Two years into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the case illustrates the many obstacles Ukrainian officers face in making an attempt to prosecute alleged traitors and search justice for obvious conflict crimes, notably in front-line villages the place loyalties are sometimes blended and residents stay below ongoing threat of Russian reoccupation.

It additionally demonstrates the tough activity of rebuilding a traumatized neighborhood the place the fact relies on whom you ask.

With the Mamon brothers now in Russia, it’s unlikely both will face trial. Even naming them as the alleged informants behind the strike triggered a break up in Hroza, bringing closure to some and discomfort to others. It has additionally triggered worry amongst some residents that if Russian forces do return, so would possibly the brothers — talking out in opposition to them now might have a value later.

In Hroza, the place a number of residents mentioned half the inhabitants as soon as harbored pro-Russian views, the October assault reopened wounds and suspicions that had festered throughout months of occupation in early 2022.

“The village is divided,” mentioned Lyuba Pletinka, 61, who lives throughout from the strike website.

In interviews, residents described how kin and pals who as soon as shared lives now suspect one another of Russian sympathies or ongoing collaboration. Locals keep away from gathering in crowds. Jealousies have emerged over help distribution. And accusations have surfaced that with many village leaders killed in the strike, pro-Russian residents have now taken cost.

Some in Hroza are reluctant to consider that the Mamon brothers had been behind the strike. (*59*) really feel vindicated now that males they reviled for working with the Russians throughout occupation have been formally outed as traitors.

Rumors are nonetheless whispered that perhaps it was another person, or {that a} GPS had been positioned on a trash can at the cafe to assist direct the strike, or that Russians launched the missile as a result of they noticed too many cellphones energetic in a single place.

Ukraine’s state safety service, the SBU, mentioned the assault was premeditated by the brothers, who maintained contact with their former neighbors on messaging apps and discovered about the funeral for Andriy Kozyr, a soldier who was killed at the begin of the conflict and was being reburied at residence. They then allegedly shared coordinates with Russian forces, who focused the cafe the place the funeral reception was being held with an Iskander missile, killing most of Kozyr’s pals and kin. Russia later falsely claimed that the strike focused a gathering of high-profile troops.

“The two brothers definitely worked for Russia. They tortured some people here,” mentioned Pletinka. “I’m 100 percent sure” they had been behind the strike, she mentioned. She additionally believes they’re linked to the jailing of her son, a Ukrainian soldier who was held as a prisoner of conflict throughout occupation.

(*59*) aren’t so sure.

“I knew the brothers worked for the Russians,” mentioned Lyuba Savchenko, 64, whose sister, cousins and pals had been killed in the strike. But, she added, “I’m not the one to blame anyone.”

“In my head I do realize they might have been the ones who did it, but my heart doesn’t want to believe it,” mentioned Valeriy Kozyr, 62, whose daughter, Olha, and son-in-law, Anatoly Pantaleev, had been killed alongside Anatoly’s dad and mom, Valeriy and Iryna, in the strike. (Despite sharing a final identify, Valeriy just isn’t an in depth relative of Andriy Kozyr, the soldier whose funeral was focused.)

“If they did it, they were friendly to the people they killed,” Valeriy mentioned. “They looked in their eyes and put a knife in their back.”

Valeriy and his spouse, Lyuba, at the moment are caring for 3 of their orphaned grandchildren: Nastya, 10, Dima, 15, and Daryna, 17. They are additionally serving to coordinate humanitarian help handouts — a activity as soon as carried out by neighbors who died in the strike.

But their household’s tragedy has not protected them from suspicions over their very own loyalties. Several neighbors mentioned that Russia supporters had been amongst these killed in the assault and that Valeriy and Lyuba had aided Russian troops throughout occupation.

When Ukrainian forces superior on then-occupied Hroza in September 2022, Valeriy and Lyuba had been amongst the residents who fled to the different aspect — driving north over the Russian border. In a prolonged interview with The Washington Post, neither initially disclosed that that they had fled to Russia or that they’ve a fourth, grownup grandson who additionally evacuated to Russia in 2022 however has not returned.

In Hroza, such transgressions at the moment are sufficient to gasoline severe mistrust — even in opposition to those that misplaced kin at Russia’s hand.

Some neighbors recommended the couple is now protecting up their ties to Russia and to their grandson — claims that Valeriy vehemently denied. He mentioned he had already been interviewed by SBU brokers and cleared of any wrongdoing. When he briefly traveled to Russia, he mentioned, he was solely excited about fleeing the entrance line. He didn’t point out his grandson in Russia to visiting journalists, he mentioned, as a result of he didn’t wish to “overshadow the tragedy my kids suffered.”

“Even in friendly communities, everyone will speculate and feel like they’re Sherlock Holmes,” he mentioned.

Valentina Kozyr, who additionally lives in the village and is the aunt of the soldier who was being buried the day the strike occurred, stays unconvinced.

“If you’re not responsible for any mistakes, then why are you running to Russia and hiding?” she requested. “A lot of people in the village are saying, ‘They had four grandchildren, then it became three.’”

Valentina’s husband, Anatoly; daughter, Olha; and 8-year-old grandson, Ivan, had been all killed in the October strike, together with many different kin. Olha’s son, her 14-year-old grandson, Vlad, now lives together with her. His life, he mentioned, has grow to be “boring and sad.”

In their front room, the place the espresso desk is now a shrine to the useless, Vlad sifted via a cabinet holding his mom’s belongings — together with her pockets and broken telephone, discovered at the strike website.

He mentioned he blames “the people who are collaborators and still speak to people in Russia” for her dying.

The household tragedy has sharpened Valentina’s sword in opposition to potential traitors. If Russian troops come again, she mentioned, she is going to flee, understanding that “people in the village would just point fingers” at those that helped Ukraine after liberation.

Before the conflict, she mentioned, Hroza was “not divided politically.” The Pantaleevs, the in-laws of Valeriy and Lyuba’s daughter, had been her daughter’s godparents.

But quickly after Russian forces took over, she mentioned, “you could tell people had switched sides.” After the October strike, mistrust worsened. Now, she mentioned, she is “furious that pro-Russians are running the show.”

On a current morning, Valeriy and Lyuba stood in the neighborhood heart, handing out containers of humanitarian help delivered to the village every month — the solely time neighbors now collect.

Within the crowd of residents chatting as they waited for his or her containers of cooking oil and sugar, mistrust simmered.

People who supported Russia at the moment are “the first ones at the humanitarian aid” station, Pletinka mentioned.

Grief is now what hyperlinks residents of Hroza to at least one one other.

“No one goes in the streets,” mentioned Dima Berezanets, 16, who visited the heart with a sled to pull his haul residence. He lives close to the strike website and misplaced neighbors in the assault. “Maybe people are just scared and traumatized by the experience.”

“The people who were the heart of the community were killed,” Valeriy mentioned.

Like their grandchildren, Lyuba added, “the town is now an orphan.”



https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2024/02/21/hroza-ukraine-missile-strike-russia/

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