Who attacked the Mykolaiv Region Administration building?
On Tuesday 29 March 2022, at 8.35 am, the façade of the Mykolaiv Regional Administration building in south Ukraine was hit by a missile, causing considerable damage. 37 people were killed. A third of the building was destroyed and the rest was left in a dangerous condition.
Almost immediately the Truth Hounds began their own investigation. Members of our team visited the target of the attack and towns and villages in the nearby Ochakovo district (Mykolaiv Region). We examined open sources.
With our partners, the Centre for Spatial Technologies (Kyiv), we examined MAXAR satellite photos and made calculations that helped us in assessing the type of weapon employed. Together with the CST we developed a 3-D model of the missile and the damage to the Regional Administration building.
1. The building was hit by a “Calibre” missile
The moment the missile hit the building was captured by a surveillance camera mounted on the roof of the “Admiral” residential complex 40 metres southeast of the target. Vitaly Kim, head of the Mykolaiv Region Administration, included this footage in his Telegram channel on the day of the attack.
In that shot the fins of the projectile can be clearly seen, protruding perpendicularly from its body: this confirmed it was a cruise missile. Comparing the image to such weapons in the arsenal of the Russian Federation it most closely resembled the Calibre, Kh-101 or Kh-555 missiles. The latter two weapons have usually been fired from aircraft over Russian or Belorussian territory adjacent to Ukraine (on occasion they have also been launched from the Black or Caspian Seas). The Calibre missile has usually been fired from the sea, either the Black Sea or the Caspian Sea.
Only the Kh-101 and Kh-555 missiles could have been fired from Russia itself. However, the circumstances of this incident, particularly the explosion of the missile’s payload, must be considered. Analysis of the type of damage led official reports to conclude that the explosion took place within the building. This can occur when such weapons are equipped with a special penetrating warhead, such as the Calibre cruise missile almost always possesses. The effect is not part of the tactical and technical characteristics of the Kh-101 missile: its warhead typically explodes several metres from the target.
In our view, the missile could not have been fired from the north, from Belarus. Monitoring of military activity around the Luninets airport (Brest Region) by the Belaruski Gayun Telegram channel showed that several Su-25 fighter planes took off from the airport at the time of the attack. They are equipped, however, only with short-range Kh-25ML, Kh-25MML, S-25L or Kh-29L missiles, which could not have reached and struck the target in Mykolaiv.
It seems most likely that a Calibre cruise missile was used in the attack. This agrees with the interpretation of the preceding official investigation.
2. The missile was fired from the Black Sea
Missiles of the Calibre class, as a whole, are not intended to be fired from the air. There is no information at present that they have been launched in that manner.
We doubt that the missile could have been fired from the Caspian Sea. That would require a 120-degree shift in the missile’s trajectory since the building was struck from the northwest. Long-distance missiles, moreover, are always tracked by Ukrainian surveillance. The distance from the coast of the Caspian Sea to Mykolaiv is approximately 1,300 kilometres. Warning systems about an air attack are in operation in almost all Ukraine’s regions. Yet on 29 March neither the Mykolaiv Region nor the majority of Ukraine’s other regions issued warnings of an imminent air attack.
The lack of a preliminary air alert and the trajectory of the missile’s flight suggest that a Calibre class missile was launched from the Black Sea. This hypothesis is supported by the testimony of a woman from Ivanovka village (Ochakovo district, Mykolaiv Region) who on the morning of 29 March heard the missile fly overhead. The village is located on the banks of the Dnipro River estuary. (Truth Hound investigators were able to interview the eye-witness late in July.)
3. The missile was launched from a Russian warship, most probably the Admiral Essen
In the run-up to the attack there were ten Russian warships in the Black Sea capable of launching such a missile: two frigates, four submarines and four smaller missile-bearing vessels.
Screening of the Bay of Sevastopol on 28 and 29 March excludes an attack by any of the submarines: at the time they were all at the naval base of Russia’s Black Sea fleet. The naval frigates Admiral Essen and Admiral Makarov, on the other hand, and the corvettes Ingushetia and Vyshny Volochok, were then in the open waters of the Black Sea.
Analysis of the disposition of each warship in relation to the target; comparison of this information with eye-witness testimony about the flight of the missile towards Mykolaiv; and consideration of the technical features of the Calibre class missile together indicate that the attack was, in all probability, launched from the Russian naval frigate, Admiral Essen.
4. The senior officers of the warship bear primary responsibility for the attack
From open sources we have established the identity of the ship’s senior officers. The Admiral Essen was commanded by Captain (2nd rank) Alexander Smirnov while Lieutenant-Captain Anatoly Peretyatko had charge of the missiles and artillery aboard the warship. They bear primary responsibility for the attack on the Mykolaiv Regional Administration building on the morning of 29 March 2022.
THE ATTACK IS A WAR CRIME
The attack on the Mykolaiv Regional Administration building was a war crime, a deliberate attack on a civilian facility as defined in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (“Intentionally directing attacks against civilian targets”, Article 8: 2 [b] ii).
Even if there were doubts about the civilian status of the building, the attack on the Regional Administration building in Mykolaiv still qualifies as a war crime by reason of its indiscriminate nature: “launching an attack in the knowledge that it will cause incidental loss of life or injury to civilians” (Article 8: 2 [b] iv). It was, in short, an attack that caused damage and destruction clearly disproportionate to any military gain the Russian armed forces might expect to achieve.
“A Calibrated Crime”, the full 34-page investigation by the Truth Hounds, may be read here in English. It was conducted with the support of the International Partnership for Human Rights (Brussels) and the National Endowment for Democracy (Washington, DC).
For more than eight years the Truth Hounds, a team of human-rights professionals, have investigated and documented war crimes and violations of human rights in Ukraine and a number of other countries in Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the Caucasus. Their work aims to bring justice to the victims and secure punishment for the perpetrators of such crimes.
The Truth Hounds are members of the Coalition for the International Criminal Court, the T4P Initiative and the Ukraine.5am coalition.