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Kremlin tries to cover its tracks in Kyiv children's hospital bombing
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Kremlin tries to cover its tracks in Kyiv children’s hospital bombing

As the bombing of a children’s hospital in Kyiv was being condemned worldwide, Russian officials denied their country’s responsibility for the attack and even tried to shift blame to Ukraine and its Western backers.

Monday’s strike on the Okhmatdyt hospital came amid a series of attacks across Ukraine that killed 43 people, including children, and injured nearly 200.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy strongly condemned the bombing and said Russia must be held accountable.

The U.N. Security Council held an emergency meeting Tuesday in connection with the attacks at the request of Kyiv’s allies.

Joyce Msuya, U.N. acting undersecretary for humanitarian affairs, told the council, “Intentionally directing attacks against a protected hospital is a war crime, and perpetrators must be held to account. … These incidents are part of a deeply concerning pattern of systemic attacks harming health care and other civilian infrastructure across Ukraine.”

‘Stand with Ukraine’

In a statement released Monday, U.S. President Joe Biden called the attacks “a horrific reminder of Russia’s brutality.”

“It is critical that the world continues to stand with Ukraine at this important moment and that we not ignore Russian aggression,” he said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied Russian responsibility for the attack, telling reporters at his daily briefing Tuesday to “be guided by” information from Russia’s Defense Ministry, which, he said, “absolutely excludes that there were attacks on civilian targets and which states that we are talking about a falling anti-missile system.”

“We continue to insist that we do not attack civilian targets,” Reuters quoted Peskov as saying. “Strikes are carried out against critical infrastructure facilities, against military targets that are in one way or another related to the military potential of the regime.”

Oksana Femeniuk, left, and her daughter Solomiia receive presents from volunteers, a day after they survived a Russian missile strike on Okhmatdyt children's hospital, in Kyiv, Ukraine, July 9, 2024.

Oksana Femeniuk, left, and her daughter Solomiia receive presents from volunteers, a day after they survived a Russian missile strike on Okhmatdyt children’s hospital, in Kyiv, Ukraine, July 9, 2024.

For her part, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova claimed that the children’s hospital was hit by a surface-to-air missile fired by Ukraine.

The Security Service of Ukraine, or SBU, posted photographs taken at the site of the missile strike, showing what appeared to be fragments of a Russian-made Kh-101 cruise missile. The SBU said its investigators had established that Russia was responsible for the strike, which it called a “war crime.”

The SBU’s version of events was bolstered by Danielle Bell, head of mission for the U.N. Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine.

“Analysis of the video footage and an assessment made at the incident site indicates a high likelihood that the children’s hospital suffered a direct hit rather than receiving damage due to an intercepted weapon system,” Reuters quoted her as saying.

Still, Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, echoed Peskov’s and Zakharova’s claims that Ukraine was responsible for the hospital strike and also took aim at Ukraine’s allies in the West.

Antonov claimed that “a Ukrainian air defense missile” hit the hospital, calling U.S. reports that a Russian cruise missile was to blame “hysteria” and “rabid anti-Russian propaganda.”

“This is not the first time” that Kyiv blamed “its own barbaric crimes on the Russian Federation,” Antonov wrote on Telegram. He added that the attack, which happened on the eve of the NATO summit in Washington, was seen by the West “as an ‘excellent gift’ to justify further escalation of the conflict and the continuation of the war to the last Ukrainian.”

Antonov said the United States should stop supplying weapons to Ukraine.

Downing of airliner recalled

Volodymyr Fesenko, head of the Center for Political Studies think tank in Kyiv, said Russian officials’ attempts to deflect blame for the strike on the children’s hospital were strikingly similar to how Russian officials reacted to the downing of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 by Russian-controlled forces in July 2014 that killed all 283 passengers and 15 crew members.

“At that time, Russia came up with about a dozen and a half versions of what happened, which were extremely far from plausible,” Fesenko told VOA’s Russian Service. “They pulled out strange witnesses from somewhere who tried to prove that the Boeing was shot down by Ukrainian missiles or fighters. The main thing was to divert attention from the main version, which pointed to Russia’s involvement in the crime. In the end, the international investigative team established that the passenger plane was shot down by a Russian Buk air defense system.”

Russia’s missile attacks Monday on Ukraine, which also killed seven people at a maternity hospital and hit a residential building in Kyiv, were a deliberate attempt by President Vladimir Putin “to demoralize Ukrainians so that they want peace at any cost” and “pressure Ukraine’s Western partners,” Fesenko said.

“Putin is sending a signal that it is necessary to negotiate peace with him on his terms — to stop military supplies to Ukraine, to limit the ability to strike Russia with these weapons. This was done specifically before the NATO summit, and this is an attempt to put psychological pressure on the participants of the event. So, Putin knows what he is doing,” Fesenko said.