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“A Calibrated Crime”: What Is Behind the Attack on Mykolayiv Regional State Administration? Highlights from the Truth Hounds Investigation

“A Calibrated Crime”: What Is Behind the Attack on Mykolayiv Regional State Administration? Highlights from the Truth Hounds Investigation

Anastasiia Opryshchenko
Миколаївська ОДА та ракетний удар 29 березня: деталі розслідування Truth Hounds

37 people were killed, another 34 were injured these are the consequences of a missile attack on the building of the Mykolayiv Regional State Administration, which took place on March 29, 2022. As a result of the shelling, the central section of the building collapsed from the ninth to the first floor, so it took almost a week for rescuers to dismantle the rubble. The Truth Hounds Ukrainian human rights group, together with the Kyiv Center for Spatial Technologies, conducted a study of the attack on the administration building and reached specific conclusions about what kind of weapon was used to fire at the RSA and whether this incident was a war crime. Zaborona reports the main theses of the research results.

On March 29, Russia shelled the Mykolayiv Regional State Administration. The blow fell on the fourth floor of the building, as a result of which a third of the nine-story building was destroyed to the ground. The other part is now in disrepair.

The explosion inside the building caused the walls destruction, the complete collapse of the northern wing of the building, and the death of civilians. The first confirmation of the attack was a video from a surveillance camera on the roof of the Admiral residential complex, located opposite to the building.

On May 21 and 23, 2022, Truth Hounds visited the site of the attack, documented the aftermath, collected five eyewitness accounts, and conducted an open-source investigation. During the investigation, it was possible to establish that a Kalibr-type cruise missile had been used during the shelling of the administration building. The Center for Spatial Technologies developed a 3D model of the missile and the destruction of the State Administration building.

Was it really a Kalibr-type missile?

According to information provided to Truth Hounds by investigative sources, ballistics experts conducted a preliminary analysis of the debris from the incident site and concluded that a 3M-14 cruise missile, part of Russia’s Kalibr missile systems, was used for the strike.

This version is also supported by the fact that the rocket detonated inside the building after it had flown there. Usually, Kalibr missiles are equipped with a special penetrating warhead.

In addition, according to the research of documentarians and thanks to the eyewitnesses’ testimony, it was possible to establish that the launch of the missile was carried out from the Black Sea.

Was it really the Russians who launched the missile from the Black Sea?

Probably yes. And although the video footage shows the rocket moving through the territory controlled by Kyiv, human rights defenders rule out the version that the Mykolayiv Regional State Administration was fired upon by the Armed Forces. After all, as part of the fulfillment of the Budapest Memorandum conditions, Ukraine got rid of its entire arsenal of cruise missiles and transferred another 581 units to Russia.

At the same time, in the public testimony of the General Staff of Ukraine and other official sources, there are references to seven types of missiles that Russia fires on the territory of Ukraine. In particular, there are sea-based missiles of the Kalibr type among them.

According to the results of the research by Truth Hounds and the Center for Spatial Technologies, at the time of the attack on the Regional State Administration, there were two frigates and two corvettes of the Russian Navy in the Black Sea, which were capable of delivering a corresponding missile strike.

“The analysis of the location of each of these vessels in the sea relative to the target, as well as the comparison of this information with the testimony of eyewitnesses to the flight of the missile in the direction of Mykolayiv and the technical characteristics of the missiles of the Kalibr family indicate that, most likely, the Kalibr was launched from a Russian frigate Admiral Essen,” the report said.

Is the attack on Mykolayiv RSA a war crime?

Yes. The administrative building is a civilian facility protected by international humanitarian law (IHL). Accordingly, the shelling of the administration by the Russian Armed Forces is a deliberate attack on a civilian object. The provisions of IHL state that an attack can only be directed at military objects or objects that have actually been used for military purposes. Instead, any intentional attack on civilian objects is already qualified as a war crime.

The head of the Mykolayiv region, Vitaliy Kim, initially, stated that most of the employees of the Regional State Administration miraculously managed to escape from the building. However, after the list of the dead was published, it became known that there were about 20 civilian workers in the building, as well as representatives of the Territorial Defense and the Armed Forces.

In their investigation, the Truth Hounds separately note that an object can be considered a military target if it “is justified by the nature, location, purpose, and manner of use of the object.” But the Mykolayiv Regional State Administration is a government building that, in particular, was not used for military meetings and planning of any participation of armed units in military operations.

The researchers note: “The Mykolayiv Regional State Administration was used exclusively for the needs of governance and the judiciary, serving the needs of the civilian population. Thus, meetings of the supreme military command of the Ukrainian armed forces or units of the territorial defense were not held in the building of the Regional State Administration, weapons were not stored and units of the armed forces were not quartered there. The presence of the Territorial Defense representatives in the immediate vicinity of the RSA and directly in it did not affect the object’s status as a civilian. From the point of view of IHL, the presence of the police or other groups assigned to maintain public order does not make an object a military target.”

Do we know who gave the order?

Yes. The investigators collected information from open databases about the composition and number of military personnel on ships that were in the Black Sea on March 29, 2022. We are talking about four vessels that are part of the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Navy and are the carriers of the Kalibr-type missiles: these are the frigates Admiral Makarov and Admiral Essen, as well as the small missile ships Ingushetia and Vyshniy Volochok.

Truth Hounds believes that it was Admiral Essen that was the platform for launching the missile: “This conclusion is based on information about the location of the frigate in the sea relative to the target, and is also confirmed by the testimony of an eyewitness who heard the flight of the missile and the explosion in Mykolayiv that immediately followed. If you connect the approximate coordinates of the location of the frigate with the location of the source at that moment and extend the line further, then, taking into account the maneuver that the missile performed on the approach to the target, you can accurately reach the building of the Regional State Administration in Mykolayiv.”

This is also confirmed by calculations based on information about the speed of the missile, the distance from the house of the witness to the affected administrative building, etc. However, the researchers note that for more accurate calculations, it is also necessary to have accurate data about time, distance, weather conditions, temperature, etc.

The command of the Admiral Essen frigate includes Captain 2nd rank Oleksandr Smirnov and the commander of the missile and artillery combat unit of the ship, Captain-Lieutenant Anatoly Peretiatko. In addition to them, there was a crew of 16 soldiers and sailors on the ship.

Researchers also know who commanded the Admiral Makarov frigate — this is Captain 2nd rank Serhiy Romanenko. The leadership of the corvette [small missile boat] Vyshnyi Volochok includes Captain 3rd rank Dmytro Sukhar, who is currently under investigation under Article 408 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine (“desertion”), as well as senior lieutenants Stanislav Pokhodoshchuk and Pavlo Gushchyn. The corvette Ingushetia was commanded by the captain of the 3rd rank Oleksandr Yermolenko.

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