Russia-Ukraine: At least 21 dead in Odessa missile attack

POKROVSK, Ukraine –

Russian missile attacks on residential areas killed at least 21 people on Friday morning near the Ukrainian port of Odessa, authorities said, a day after the withdrawal of Moscow forces from a Black Sea island appeared to ease the threat to the city.

Video of the attack before daybreak showed the charred ruins of buildings in the small town of Serhiivka, about 50 kilometers (31 miles) from Odessa. The Ukrainian president’s office said three Kh-22 missiles fired by fighter jets hit a building and a campsite.

Ukrainian authorities interpreted the attack as reward for Russian troops driven from Snake Island a day earlier, although Moscow described their departure as a « goodwill gesture » to help unblock the country’s grain exports.

Russian forces took control of the island in the early days of the war in the apparent hope of using it as staging ground for an assault on Odessa, Ukraine’s largest port and the headquarters of its Marine.

« The occupiers cannot win on the battlefield, so they resort to despicable slaughter of civilians, » said Ivan Bakanov, head of Ukraine’s security service, the SBU. « After the enemy was dislodged from Snake Island, he decided to respond with the cynical bombardment of civilian targets. »

Large numbers of civilians died in Russian airstrikes and bombings earlier in the war, including at a hospital, a theater used as a bomb shelter, and a railway station. Until this week, mass casualties involving residents appeared to be becoming less frequent as Moscow focused on capturing the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine.

But Russian missiles hit the Kyiv region last weekend after weeks of relative calm around the capital, and an airstrike Monday on a shopping center in the central city of Kremenchuk killed at least 19 people.

After Friday’s attack, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov reiterated that Moscow was not targeting residential areas.

According to Ukrainian media, 21 people were killed, including children. He said 38 other people, including six children and a pregnant woman, were hospitalized. Most of the victims were in the building, Ukrainian emergency officials said.

Oleh Zhdanov, an independent Ukrainian military analyst, said the Russian withdrawal from Snake Island had « colossal psychological significance » for Ukraine.

« Snake Island is key to controlling the Black Sea and could help cover the Russian attack if the Kremlin opted for an amphibious landing operation in Odessa or elsewhere in the region, » he said. « Now those plans are being pushed back. »

The Ukrainian army called for a barrage from its artillery and missiles forced the Russians to flee the island in two small speedboats. The exact number of troops withdrawing has not been disclosed.

The island rose to prominence early in the war as a symbol of Ukrainian defiance. When a Russian warship called on the island’s defenders to surrender, they reportedly replied, « Go (expletive) yourself. »

Zelenskyy said that while the withdrawal would not guarantee the security of the Black Sea region, it would « significantly limit » Russian activities there.

“Step by step we will drive (Russia) out of our sea, our land, our sky,” he said in his evening speech.

In eastern Ukraine, Russian forces continued their push to encircle the town of Lysychansk, the last stronghold of resistance in Luhansk, one of the two provinces that make up the Donbass region.

« The shelling of the city is very intensive, » Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai said. « Occupiers are destroying one house after another with heavy artillery and other weapons. Residents of Lysychansk are hiding in basements almost around the clock. »

Haidai said the Russians were fighting for control of an oil refinery on the outskirts of town. But Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said Russian and Luhansk separatist forces had taken control of the refinery as well as a mine and a gelatin factory in Lysychansk.

Ukraine’s presidential office said a series of Russian strikes in the past 24 hours had also killed civilians in eastern Ukraine – four in the northeastern region of Kharkiv and four others in the province of Donetsk.

In other developments, Zelenskyy asked Ukrainian lawmakers to speed up the legislation needed for the country to join the European Union. His government applied for EU membership after the February 24 Russian invasion. EU leaders made Ukraine a candidate last week, acting with unusual speed and unity.

The process could take years or even decades, but Zelenskyy said in a speech to lawmakers that Ukraine could not wait.

« Such decisions are necessary for Ukraine to move forward on its path, and you must take them, » he said.


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