Civilian Targets Under Fire

According to Western intelligence, Russia has been firing an “unusual number” of missiles designed to sink aircraft carriers and accompanying battle groups in southern Ukraine of late, specifically the port city of Odesa. It’s been going on for a week.

The Kh-22 Storm, which NATO calls the AS-4 Kitchen, is a massive, nearly 40-foot-long (12,200 m) anti-ship missile that weighs over six tons and carries an approximately 2,000-pound (907 kg) warhead. It is wildly inaccurate on land and known to cause significant collateral damage.

While the original missiles were first launched in the 1960s, the upgraded Kh-22M unveiled a decade later can be launched from over 300 miles away by Tu-22M Backfire bombers capable of carrying not just one but three. of these missiles.

Historically, these supersonic weapons have posed a formidable threat to NATO aircraft carriers, but in Ukraine, Russia is not using them against Navy ships and instead is launching them against cities.

Civilian Targets Under Fire: The Disturbing Reality of Russia's Missile Attacks
An aerial view of the damaged building after Russian missile attacks in Odesa, Ukraine, on July 25, 2023.

The most recent targets for the Kh-22 and other Russian missiles have been parts of southern Ukraine following the collapse of a grain deal. Russia apparently believes that Ukraine is stockpiling military equipment in the area and is no longer willing to avoid attacking it.

Even if Ukraine were doing that, the Russian strikes are not hitting those targets. Instead, they are hitting non-military targets such as grain silos, ports and landmarks in the historic city center of Odessa, according to the most recent intelligence update from the UK Ministry of Defense.

The Russian strikes, involving a variety of different missiles, have not only killed and injured innocent Ukrainian civilians but dozens of historic sites like the Orthodox Cathedral in Odesa have been badly damaged, sparking outrage from Ukraine’s leaders.

“Missiles against peaceful cities, against residential buildings, a cathedral… There can be no excuse for Russian evil,” Zelenskyy said in response to an attack that killed one person and wounded 22. He warned Russia would lose this war and vowed to retaliate for what he called an act of terrorism.

Civilian Targets Under Fire: The Disturbing Reality of Russia's Missile Attacks
In an aerial view, the Transfiguration Cathedral was badly damaged by a Russian missile on July 23, 2023, in Odessa, Ukraine.

Regardless of which type of missiles hit what exactly in Odessa and other southern cities, reports that the Kh-22 was among the weapons dropped at these urban centers indicate the perpetuation of a worrying pattern of unconcerned Russian targets.

As the British Ministry of Defense notes, “Since the start of the war, Russia’s attack campaign has been characterized by poor intelligence and a dysfunctional targeting process,” and it does not seem particularly deterred by collateral damage and civilian casualties.

The Kh-22 has a radar that can’t discriminate as well as Russia’s precision-guided missiles, making using the weapon against cities remarkably reckless and highly dangerous.

However, the missile is difficult to shoot down, making it less vulnerable to Ukraine’s air defenses than other weapons. It’s also far less valuable than certain precision-guided missiles, which Russia is running out of after using up faster than it can replenish. Essentially, the Kh-52 missile fills a capability gap but without accuracy.

Civilian Targets Under Fire: The Disturbing Reality of Russia's Missile Attacks
Workers clean up the destruction caused by a rocket attack on Military Descent a day after the rocket attack in Odessa.

Those advantages for Russia, however, limited they may be given to the targets being struck, come at a terrible cost paid by Ukrainian civilians, and that may make sense.

“This type of missile causes the highest human casualties because the missile is extremely inaccurate,” Ukraine’s attorney general’s office said in a statement provided to The New York Times after an attack earlier this year.

In January, a Kh-22 anti-ship missile slammed into a residential structure in Dnipro, a small city in central Ukraine, killing dozens of people and injuring many others. There is no indication that these people’s homes were a legitimate target.

Yuriy Ihnat, a Ukrainian military spokesman, later said that the Kh-22 missile that hit an apartment block “is designed to destroy aircraft carrier groups at sea,” adding that “there is no explanation or justification” for using it to attack “a densely populated city.”

However, these types of attacks have occurred repeatedly throughout the war by Russia.

In another attack in June 2022, the Kh-22 was used in an attack on the Amstor shopping center in Kremenchuk, where fires spread in the aftermath of the initial attack. The horrifying attack on a civilian target killed at least 20 people and injured nearly 60 others.

Civilian Targets Under Fire: The Disturbing Reality of Russia's Missile Attacks
Kh-52 and Kh-50 missiles (right)

Intelligence reports saying that “unusual” numbers of these destructive missiles are being launched on Odessa and the surrounding area may speak to Russia’s desperation or indifference to hit its intended target, assuming it is unintentional.

As a missile expert previously told Insider about Russia’s use of the Kh-22 against cities in Ukraine, it’s possible that “cruelty is the point.”

Ryan Pickrell