FACT CHECK: Who Is Responsible For A Sept. 6 Missile On A Ukrainian Market?

Elias Atienza | Senior Reporter

Multiple media outlets reported that a Russian missile hit a Ukrainian market in Kostiantynivka, Ukraine.

Verdict: Misleading

A New York Times report stated the evidence shows the missile that hit the market was likely Ukrainian, not Russian. While Ukrainian authorities stated that it was likely a Russian S-300 missile, multiple open-source analysts stated that the New York Times analysis was credible.

Fact Check:

A missile hit a Ukrainian market in the city of Kostiantynivka, located in eastern Ukraine, leaving at least 17 dead and 32 wounded, according to the BBC News. Ukraine accused Russia of hitting the market, while Russian officials did not claim responsibility for the attack, the outlet reported.

Multiple media outlets, such as The New York Times, NBC News and CNN, reported that it was a Russian missile that hit the market, citing Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy.

However, there is evidence that a Ukrainian missile hit the market, not a Russian missile. The New York Times published an article 12 days following their initial report stating that the evidence pointed to a Ukrainian anti-air missile. The outlet reported that “evidence collected and analyzed by The New York Times, including missile fragments, satellite imagery, witness accounts and social media posts, strongly suggests the catastrophic strike was the result of an errant Ukrainian air defense missile fired by a Buk launch system.”

Ukraine does use the Buk system, which is described as a “a four-person tracked vehicle with a built-in radar and a launcher for four two-ton missiles,” according to Forbes. The New York Times reported that holes left behind by the missile’s impact were consistent with a 9M38 Buk missile. The outlet also spoke with a witness who said they saw an air defense missile go from the Ukrainian-held town of Druzhkivka in the direction of Kostiantynivka. (RELATED: Posts Claims Ukrainian Challenger 2 Tank Was Not Destroyed)

New York Times reporters stationed in Druzhkivka heard the launch of air defense missiles from the town before the market was struck. Times reporters also went to a suspected launch site for the missiles and found scorch marks and other markers that the Ukrainian military had been there such as “trenches, trash pits and wide tracks consistent with a large military vehicle.”

Russia has constantly hit and targeted civilians and civilian infrastructure such as schools and residences, the New York Times reported. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights found in August 2023 that 9,511 civilians, including over 500 children, had been killed and 17,206 were wounded since Russia invaded in February 2022.

Ruslan Leviev, project director at the investigative group Conflict Intelligence Team, told Check Your Fact that they “came to almost the same conclusion a long time before NYT.”

“Unlike the New York Times, we had no missile fragments or witnesses who saw air defense missiles being launched. That’s why we thought that this was AGM-88 HARM missile. But general conclusion was the same right from the beginning: it was [a][U]krainian missile, coming from the north-west, mishap, tragic accident,” Leviev said and linked to the CIT’s dispatches from Sept. 7 and Sept. 20.

Jett Goldsmith, managing editor of the open source investigative organization Offbeat Research, told Check Your Fact that the New York Times article was “forensically valid.”

“From available open-source evidence, the New York Times investigation is forensically valid and consistent with prior reports of malfunctioning surface-to-air missile (SAM) launches on both sides of the conflict in Ukraine,” Goldsmith said. “Russian and Ukrainian forces are often reliant on outdated and previously poorly maintained Soviet-era weapons systems, including surface-to-air Buk and S300 systems which have a history of targeting failures resulting in ground casualties such as this.”

Goldsmith added,”Some open-source metrics which were tapped by the New York Times, including satellite image analysis, are often reliant on partial or otherwise impacted datasets and thus may be unreliable alone. But the preponderance of evidentiary analysis used by the New York Times, including basic directional analysis and audio analysis pegged chronologically to the timeline of the strike, supports their claim that a missile launched from territory controlled by Ukraine hit the area in question.”

Ukrainian authorities rejected the New York Times report. Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Zelenskyy’s presidential office, said in a tweet that the “legal truth will be established” in response to the New York Times article.

“Among other things, the circumstances of the strike on Kostiantynivka are also being studied. In any case, the legal truth will be established. In the meantime, we must not forget: it was Russia that launched the invasion of Ukraine and it is Russia that is responsible for bringing war to our country,” Podolyak tweeted.

The Security Services of Ukraine (SBU) told Reuters that while an investigation is still ongoing, said investigation pointed to a Russian S-300 missile as responsible for the market tragedy. (RELATED: Russia Today Headline Claiming Prigozhin’s Pilot Had Post-Vaccine Myocarditis Is Fabricated)

“This is evidenced, in particular, by the identified missile fragments recovered at the scene of the tragedy,” the SBU said, according to Reuters. A unnamed source told Ukrainska Pravda, a Ukrainian outlet, that the Ukrainian Air Force did not use Buk anti-air systems that day. Other sources told the outlet that the Ukrainian Ground Forces does not possess Buk systems.

The New York Times updated two articles that reported a Russian missile strike hit the market with corrections. A Facebook post, though, still claims that a Russian missile hit the market.

“An earlier version of this article overstated what is known about the origin of the missile that struck the street market in Kostyantynivka. While President Volodymyr Zelensky attributed the strike to Russia, which had shelled the town in recent months, evidence uncovered later suggests an errant Ukrainian missile may have hit the market. A spokesman for Ukraine’s armed forces said the country’s security service was investigating the episode,” the correction reads.

Check Your Fact reached out to the SBU, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, CNN, The New York Times and NBC News for comment.

Update 9/26/2023: This article has been updated to reflect that the New York Times corrected two articles about the missile strike. 

Elias Atienza

Senior Reporter
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