| 19 June 2024, Wednesday |

Chernihiv: Russian missile strike kills seven and injures 144, Ukraine says

Officials say a Russian missile targeted a theater in the northern Ukrainian city of Chernihiv on Saturday morning, killing seven people, including a six-year-old child.

According to officials, fifteen children were among the 144 individuals injured. At least 25 persons were sent to the hospital.

People who had been enjoying an Orthodox Christian feast at church were among the fatalities.

The attack also destroyed the main square and a university building.

The United Nations condemned it as “heinous,” and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky promised a stern reaction by Ukrainian forces to a “terrorist attack.”

Chernihiv lies around 50 kilometers (31 miles) south of Ukraine’s border with Belarus. In the early months of President Vladimir Putin’s full-scale invasion, which began in February 2022, it was surrounded by Russian forces.

The city’s majestic theatre took a direct strike. Tiles were blasted off surrounding buildings’ roofs, with one catching fire 100 meters distant.

The acting mayor of Chernihiv informed the BBC that the theatre was hosting a convention of drone makers.

“I understand that their aim was a military event taking place in the building of the drama theatre and that it was their target,” Oleksandr Lomako said.

“But it is clear that the Russians launching those missiles and those giving them orders in the middle of the day to the civilian city realized that the victims will be primarily civilians.

“There is no other way to interpret it than a war crime against civilians, yet another Russian war crime,” he added.

Ukrainian Interior Minister Ihor Klymenko later said all those inside the theatre had managed to reach shelter in time.

He said that “most of the victims were in their vehicles or crossing the road at the time of the rocket strike, as well as returning from a church”.

The city centre of Chernihiv is a popular area for people to stroll around, especially on the weekend, locals told the BBC.

Anna Zahreba, the manager of a Crimean Tatar restaurant just across the street from the theatre, said her staff were getting ready for a busy day when the missile hit.

“I ran outside to see what was going on,” she said. “There were two 12-year-old girls here and a lot of blood. One had her leg badly wounded. Another girl was screaming.

“We applied a tourniquet and waited for an ambulance. It was taking a long time to get here, but some man stopped his car and we took a girl to a hospital.”

Anna says staff rushed to help injured people with medical kit and blankets.

“There are always many people walking around here, with children and baby strollers. Many restaurants and cafes in the area,” she tells us.

“We did not expect a day like this.”

In his video address late on Saturday, President Zelensky said the child killed in the Russian strike was a girl named Sofia.

Earlier, he said that Russia had turned an “ordinary Saturday” into “a day of pain and loss”.

The UN said it was “extremely disturbed” by the attack.

“It is heinous to attack the main square of a large city, in the morning, while people are out walking, some going to the church to celebrate a religious day for many Ukrainians,” Denise Brown, the current head of the UN in Ukraine, said in a statement.

“Attacks directed against civilians or civilian objects are strictly prohibited under international humanitarian law,” she said. “It must stop.”

Three days of mourning have been announced in the city.

Moscow is yet to comment.

Elsewhere, Russia has claimed that a Ukrainian drone hit a military airfield in the northwest Novgorod region, causing a fire that was quickly put out.

One plane was damaged but no casualties have been reported, it added.

Ukraine has not commented on the alleged drone attack.

Meanwhile, Kyiv’s air force said the Ukrainian military had shot down 15 out of 17 Iranian-made Shahed drones launched by Moscow in an overnight strike.

  • Reuters