By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — Ukrainian Defense Minister Rustem Umerov offered his condolences and ordered a “full investigation” after Russian missiles reportedly killed some 20 soldiers attending an awards ceremony held in a frontline position in the south of the country.
“My condolences to the families of the fallen soldiers from the 128th Separate Mountain Assault Transcarpathian Brigade,” Umerov said in a Facebook statement on November 5.
“All the circumstances of what happened will be clarified. I instruct the Chief Inspectorate of the Ministry of Defense to conduct a full investigation into the facts of this tragedy,” he added.
Officials said the soldiers of the brigade came from the Zakarpattia region of western Ukraine.
Ukrainian officials have not yet released full details of the incident, but the Ukrainska Pravda news portal said the soldiers were taking part in a ceremony in the Zaporizhzhya region on November 3 as part of Artillery Day activities when Russian shells hit the area. The report said more than 20 soldiers were killed.
The report quoted Viktor Mykyta, head of the Zakarpattia administration, as saying that November 6 would be a day of mourning throughout the soldiers’ home region.
“Our brothers-in-arms, the soldiers of the 128th Brigade, who defended Ukraine’s independence from the occupiers with their own lives, were tragically killed in the area of combat operations,” he was quoted as saying.
Many postings on social media have criticized the decision to hold such a ceremony so close to the front lines.
The Ukrainian military said that on November 3, Russian forces had launched “insidious strikes” on 26 settlements in the Zaporizhzhya, Polohiy, and Vasylivka districts.
“In particular, the Iskander-M missile hit the personnel of the 128th Separate Mountain Assault Brigade, as a result of which servicemen were killed, and local residents were also injured of varying degrees of severity,” the military said.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in a U.S. TV interview called on Washington to provide further aid to help his country battle against the Russian invasion.
“If Russia will kill all of us, they will attack NATO countries and you will send your sons and daughters [to fight],” Zelenskiy told NBC.
Zelenskiy also invited former President Donald Trump to travel to Ukraine to see the nature of the conflict for himself and that “I will need 24 minutes, no more” to explain to him that he can’t manage this war because of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Trump, the leading Republican candidate to face Democratic President Joe Biden in the 2024 election, has said he could end the war in “24 hours” and has expressed doubts about the need to continue aid to Ukraine.
Zelenskiy said he has had no contact with the former U.S. leader since Trump left office in January 2021.
Zelenskiy also rejected remarks by some critics — and even some within his government — who say the war has reached a “stalemate,” and he expressed confidence of his country’s eventual victory should allies continue to support Kyiv.
He said the situation was “difficult, but I don’t think it’s a stalemate.”
Zelenskiy said he would not engage in talks with the Kremlin before Russia pulls its troops out of Ukrainian territory, following reported remarks that Western officials had suggested holding peace negotiations.
The United States knows “I am not ready to speak with the terrorists, because their word is nothing,” Zelenskiy said.
The Russians must “go out from our territory. Only after that, the world can switch on diplomacy,” he said.