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An Anatomy of a Grad Attack: Case Study – Mariupol, Ukraine

Case Study – Mariupol, 24th January 2015

“What else to say? It was a tragedy” – Local Resident.

Destroyed windows in the aftermath of the Mariupol Grad attack. Ivasykus (cc by-SA 4.0).

Early in the morning on 24th January, a butcher at Denis Market prepared for what she thought would be a typically busy Saturday morning. At 8:00am, the electricity and water supply shut off. Looking at her phone she noticed that she also had no mobile connection. So close to a conflict zone, disruptions like these were common and, confident that it would be short-lived, she made do without power and opened her shop. 

400 metres away at Kievskiy Market, traders faced the same problems – the owner of a small Kiosk selling perfumes served her first customers by candlelight.

The two markets lie at the centre of the Vostochny district, located at the eastern edge of Mariupol – a large city on the Azov Sea in southeastern Ukraine. At the time, Vostochny was less than 20km from the frontline of the ongoing war between Ukrainanian forces and Russian-backed separatists. Despite the proximity to the ongoing conflict, inhabitants had learned to live with the sound of not-too-distant shelling and continued their lives as best they could. As a result, the two markets, and surrounding shops, began to fill up with morning shoppers, wrapped tight in their winter coats.

At 9:20am, with no warning, a salvo of deadly rockets started to fall on the district. Several landed in and around Kievskiy Market, causing unbidden carnage amongst the maze of cramped alleys and stalls. The layout of the market made it a particularly deadly point. The confined space allowed the rockets’ initial blast to be reflected and, amplified by multiple surfaces, the devastation was terrible. Informal structures made from wood and sheet metal provided little protection from the 4,000 fragments that flew out when each rocket exploded. Blood flowed in the streets.

As fires began to envelop parts of Kievskiy Market, 122mm rockets were also exploding, almost simultaneously, throughout Vostochny. More than 700 metres to the south, a rocket fell close to the CTO garage, destroying all the windows, and peppering the three storey building with shrapnel holes. At the same time, three rockets struck the grounds of School No. 57, almost 1km west of Kievskiy Market. It was one of three schools, spread across the district, damaged by the attack. 

The exterior of Kievysky Market following the attack, Ivasykus (cc by-SA 4.0).

In 35 seconds, more than 150 rockets had hit Vostochny over an area at least 1.4km by 1km. They had been fired from four BM-21 Grad MLRSs by DPR forces under the instruction and supervision of Russian military commanders. 31 people were killed – two of them children aged 5 and 15 – and 117 people were injured. Houses, apartments, schools, kindergartens, shops and a medical centre were all damaged to varying degrees.

This is the nature of a Grad Attack. A single Russian-made BM-21 Grad multiple launch rocket system delivering 40 high-explosive fragmentation rockets over a large area in 20 seconds. If several systems are used, the devastation is only multiplied. A hail of harm is too benign a word to describe this weapon when used in towns and cities.

Next chapter: SDG 16 – Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
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