Ukraine: At least 19 dead in Odessa missile attack

Kyiv, Ukraine –

Russian missile attacks on residential areas in a coastal town near the Ukrainian port city of Odessa killed at least 19 people on Friday, authorities said, a day after Russian forces withdrew from a strategic island in the black Sea.

Video of the pre-dawn attack showed the charred remains of buildings in the small town of Serhiivka, located about 50 kilometers southwest of Odessa. The Ukrainian president’s office said three X-22 missiles fired by Russian bombers hit a building and two campsites.

“A terrorist country is killing our people. In response to defeats on the battlefield, they fight civilians, » said Andriy Yermak, chief of staff to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

According to the Ukrainian security services, 19 people died, including two children. He said 38 others, including six children and a pregnant woman, were hospitalized with injuries. Most of the victims were in the building, Ukrainian emergency officials said.

The airstrikes followed the withdrawal of Russian forces from Snake Island on Thursday, a move that could potentially lessen the threat to nearby Odessa, home to Ukraine’s biggest port. The island lies along a busy shipping lane.

Russia took control of it in the early days of the war in the apparent hope of using it as staging ground for an assault on Odessa. The Kremlin described the departure of Russian troops from Snake Island as a « goodwill gesture » intended to facilitate shipments of grain and other agricultural products to Africa, the Middle East and other parts of the world.

The Ukrainian army called for a barrage from its artillery and missiles forced the Russians to flee 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 Ukraine’s resistance to Russian invasion. Ukrainian troops there reportedly received a request from a Russian warship to surrender or be bombarded. The answer supposedly came back, « 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 last stronghold of resistance in Lugansk, one of the two provinces that make up the Donbass region. Moscow-backed separatists have controlled much of the region for eight years.

Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai said the Russians were trying to surround the town of Lysychansk and were fighting for control of an oil refinery on the outskirts of the town.

“The bombardment of the city is very intensive,” Haidai told The Associated Press. “The occupiers are destroying one house after another with heavy artillery and other weapons. Residents of Lysychansk hide in basements almost around the clock.”

The offensive has so far failed to cut Ukrainian supply lines, although the main highway leading west has not been used due to constant Russian shelling, the governor said. “Evacuation is impossible,” he added.

But Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said on Friday that Russian and Luhansk separatist forces had seized control of the refinery as well as a mine and a gelatin factory in Lysychansk « in course of the last three days ».

Ukraine’s presidential office said a series of Russian strikes over 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.

Russian shelling killed large numbers of civilians early in the war, including at a hospital and theater in the port city of Mariupol. Mass casualties seemed to become rarer as Moscow focused on capturing the Donbass region.

However, a missile strike Monday on a shopping center in Kremenchuk, a city in central Ukraine, left at least 19 people dead and 62 injured, authorities said Friday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday denied that Russian forces had targeted the mall, saying his country was not hitting civilian facilities. He claimed the target in Kremenchuk was a nearby arms depot, echoing remarks by his military officials.


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