Shortly before midnight on 27 April, a series of explosions rocked central Kherson, a south-Ukrainian regional capital occupied by the Russian troops since the first days of Russia’s all-out invasion. Local journalists found evidence that a Russian missile damaged buildings in the city. The incident occurred before the allegedly planned sham referendum to proclaim a Russian-run “people’s republic” in the occupied southern areas of Ukraine. It is reminiscent of the 2015 Russian attacks on local residents in the occupied Donbas designed to instigate hatred towards Ukraine.
About 23:00 EEST, Kherson residents heard a cannonade sounding like outgoing rounds in previous days, when the Russian troops shelled Mykolaiv Oblast. No explosions were reported as happening within the city during the distant cannonade. Shortly later, a powerful explosion rocked the city, its videos emerged around 23:15 on the pro-Ukrainian Telegram channel Hueviy Herson.
About half an hour later, the Russian state-funded news agency RIA Novosti, one of Russia’s major propaganda outlets, claimed that
“A series of powerful explosions rocked downtown Kherson near the TV center” and “A strike with at least two Tochka-U missiles and few Uragan [rockets] has been delivered at central Kherson,” citing its correspondent.
The Tochka-U is the only type of tactical ballistic missiles that Ukraine has in its stockpiles.
On the morning of 28 April, the Russian defense ministry claimed that it was Ukraine which tried to attack the Kherson TV tower with Tochka-U missiles, saying that Russian air defenses shot down not only two of them over Kherson, but also “12 shells of a powerful multiple rocket launch system.”
No one was killed by the explosion, according to Russian sources.
According to Ukrainian intelligence, Russia is going to hold a sham referendum in the occupied Kherson Oblast to proclaim its independence from Ukraine. However, pro-Ukrainian local residents continue to take to the streets for more than a month protesting the Russian occupation.
The local Ukrainian elected authorities continued working in the occupied city up to 25 April, when the occupation authorities seized the building of the city council. The most recent rally against the planned sham referendum took place in Kherson earlier on the same day as the subsequent night explosion.
Russian reporting from the scene
A video by a Russian journalist of the newspaper Izvestia emerged later on Izvestia’s Telegram channel, in which he stated that “a Tochka-U missile flew into Kherson a few minutes ago, it was successfully shot down” showing some unidentified wreckage near a garbage can. He also stated that there was “large-scale damage” caused by the explosion, although not showing any damage in the area.
Ukrainian Telegram channels claimed that Izvestia’s video was filmed an hour before the actual explosion in Kherson. Euromaidan Press checked the meta data of the video shared on Izvestia’s Telegram channel, though the clip didn’t contain the file creation and modification dates.
However, the copy put out on a private Telegram channel “Украина Today” and later forwarded by several other channels really has the creation date set to “2022:04:27 21:59:06”:
Euromaidan Press couldn’t establish whether the publication of the video on Izvestia’s channel at 00:10, April 28, was the first appearance of this video on the web, or other Russian sources published it earlier with the metadata present in the video file copies later shared by the Ukrainian sources.
The Russian missile
The powerful explosion in Kherson on 27 April occurred close to the ground, which implies that if the tactical missile Tochka-U would really had been shot down from the skies as Russian propaganda claims, then the explosion should have been a detonation of the missile’s warhead.
In its article titled “Who shelled downtown Kherson,” the Kherson local media outlet Most presents evidence that Russian propagandists lied about a Ukrainian missile strike and buildings in the city center were actually damaged by the Russian air defense system Buk:
“The missile fired by the Russians didn’t work out high in the air, as it’s supposed to, but in close proximity to the ground, and fragments from Russian Buk smashed windows and damaged the walls of buildings.”
A video published by the local TV channel VTV+, whom the “occupiers allowed to work,” clearly shows the cube-shaped striking elements characteristic of several types of surface-to-air missiles used by the Buk system. Tochka-U missiles don’t have such striking elements.
Moreover, an explosion of a Tochka-U missile should have rather shattered windows in the building with the blast wave than scratch the walls with the striking elements:
“The footage shows that the windows in the city council weren’t smashed by a blast wave, but by striking elements. As evidenced by the damaged walls. Moreover, the nature of the damage shows that the explosion occurred not high in the air since all hits didn’t cause characteristic long traces [directed] from top to bottom,” the Most wrote.
This shows that the missile explosion in Kherson was either an incident when the Russian troops failed to launch a surface-to-air missile properly to shoot down some air target, or it could have been a deliberate attack on the center of the city to once again put blame on Ukraine.
Not a first attack on civilians to blame Ukraine
Russian forces staged a number of attacks on civilians in the Russian-controlled cities of the Donbas in 2014-2015 to blame Ukraine in order to gain loyalty among locals and turn them against the Ukrainian armed forces.
The best known attack of this kind was a mortar shelling of a trolleybus stop in Russian-occupied Donetsk on 22 January 2022, when 8 civilians were killed according to OSCE. The area was at least 15 kilometers away from the nearest Ukrainian position which is well out of range of the mortars used by the Ukrainian forces. Later Russians detained “a Ukrainian DRG [subversive reconnaissance group]” which for some reason comprised three Russian citizens. One of pro-Russian sources later reported that the shelling was a case of infighting between two militant factions, one of which tried to hit the other’s base but missed and killed civilians. Nevertheless, the Russian propagandists used the deaths of civilians to denigrate Ukraine and the case became one of many bricks to build hatred towards Ukraine among the Ukrainian citizens of the Donbas.
However, the Russian missile attack on occupied Kherson may be the first case when Russia staged an attack on a Ukrainian city under Russian control after the start of its full-blown war.
- Russia plans sham referendum to formalize its occupation of Ukraine’s south
- The Kherson “referendum” sham: out of the Kremlin’s hybrid war playbook
- Abductions and smoke grenades: Russian occupiers trying to break peaceful resistance in Kherson Oblast
- Threatening Kherson farmers, Russian troops steal grain from Ukraine