By Olena Harmash
KYIV (Reuters) -A Russian missile slammed into a cafe and grocery store in a village in northeastern Ukraine on Thursday, killing at least 51 people as they held a memorial service, Ukrainian officials said.
The cafe and shop were struck and reduced to rubble early in the afternoon in Hroza village in the Kupiansk district of the Kharkiv region, regional governor Oleh Synehubov said, adding that many civilians had been there at the time.
Officials posted footage of dazed-looking rescue workers clambering through smouldering rubble. Some photos showed bodies lying alongside slabs of concrete and twisted metal, and others showed rescue workers carrying away bodies.
Interior Minister Ihor Klymenko said residents of the village of about 330 people had been holding a memorial service in the cafe that was hit, and local officials said they had been sitting down to a meal.
"From every family, from every household, there were people present at this commemoration. This is a terrible tragedy," Klymenko told Ukrainian television.
The attack was the deadliest in the Kharkiv region since Russia's invasion more than 19 months ago, a spokesperson for the Kharkiv regional military administration told Ukrainian public broadcaster Suspilne.
It also appeared to be one of the biggest civilian death tolls in any single Russian strike since the start of the war.
UKRAINIAN OFFICIAL CONDEMN ATTACK
Klymenko cited preliminary information that he said showed the attack was carried out with an Iskander ballistic missile.
He said the strike was clearly very targeted and that Ukrainian security services had launched an investigation into the matter.
"The terrorists deliberately carried out the attack during lunchtime, to ensure a maximum number of casualties," said Defence Minister Rustem Umerov.
"There were no military targets there. This is a heinous crime intended to scare Ukrainians."
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who was attending a summit with European leaders in Spain, said that "the Russian terror should be stopped".
"Now we are talking with European leaders, in particular, about strengthening our air defence, about strengthening our soldiers, about giving our country protection from terror," he said in a post on the Telegram messaging app.
Russia has frequently carried out air strikes since the start of its full-scale invasion in February 2022, and Ukraine has launched a counteroffensive in the south and east that it says is gradually making progress.
Moscow did not immediately comment on the events in Hroza. Moscow denies deliberately targeting civilians, but many have been killed in attacks that have hit residential areas as well as energy, defence, port, grain and other facilities.
(Reporting by Olena Harmash, Editing by Timothy Heritage and Andrew Heavend)