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CHERNIGIV, Ukraine: Ukrainian rescuers clear the rubble of a destroyed building following a missile attack on April 17, 2024. - AFP
CHERNIGIV, Ukraine: Ukrainian rescuers clear the rubble of a destroyed building following a missile attack on April 17, 2024. - AFP
Russian strikes on Ukraine city leave 17 dead

CHERNIGIV, Ukraine: Three Russian missiles crashed into Ukraine’s historic city of Chernigiv on Wednesday, killing 17 people, as officials pleaded for more air defence systems from allies. Pools of blood gathered on the street at the scene of one strike, where rescuers searched for survivors in the rubble and carried away the wounded on stretchers, official images showed. Buildings and cars across the centre of the northern city were destroyed in the strike.

President Volodymyr Zelensky, who has urged allies to send more missiles to thwart Russian aerial attacks, said Ukraine lacked the weapons it needed to intercept the three missiles that struck Chernigiv. He said he had spoken to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg about the strike and asked for “immediate steps” to bolster Ukraine’s air defences.

Resident Olga Samoilenko told AFP how she ducked with her children into the corridor of their apartment building for protection when the first missile exploded. “Our neighbours were already there. We started shouting for everyone to fall to the floor. They did. There were two more explosions. Then we ran to the parking lot,” the 33-year-old said. The official death toll grew to 17 during the day, while emergency services said 60 people — including three children — had been wounded. “Search and rescue operations are ongoing,” their statement added.

Mayor Oleksandr Lomako said more than a dozen buildings had been damaged in the attack while other officials said dozens of vehicles, and medical and educational facilities were also damaged. A 25-year-old policewoman on sick leave was among those killed after suffering a severe shrapnel injury, the interior minister announced. AFP journalists at the scene saw a body being pulled from the rubble and an eight-storey hotel building gutted by the strike where municipal workers were using a crane to clear debris.

Nearby apartments, a beauty salon and beer shop were among structures whose windows had been blown out by the attack. The Chernigiv region, which borders Belarus to the north, was partially occupied at the beginning of the Russian invasion but has been spared fighting for around two years since Russian forces retreated.

Zelensky blamed Russia for the attack but also said the West should do more to help defend Ukraine’s skies. “This would not have happened if Ukraine had received sufficient air defence equipment and if the world’s determination to resist Russian terror had been sufficient,” he said. Echoing the comments, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba suggested in a social media post that Ukraine should enjoy the same cover from aerial attacks as the Zionist entity.

“In the Middle East, we saw what reliable protection of human lives from missiles looks like,” he added, referring to the interception of Iran’s drone and missile barrage on the Zionisy entity on Saturday. Kuleba thanked Germany for agreeing to supply Ukraine with another Patriot air defence system and said he would appeal to other countries at a G7 meeting this week for more weapons.

A growing chorus in Ukraine has been appealing to allied countries for more sophisticated air defence weapons to ward off Russian strikes on key infrastructure. Poor weather as well as Russian attacks on Ukrainian power plants have left thousands in the war-scarred country with limited electricity supplies.

Chernigiv lies some 145 km north of Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, and had a pre-war population of around 285,000 people. The city — home to some of Ukraine’s oldest churches — lies hundreds of kilometres from the front line but has occasionally been targeted in long-range Russian strikes. In August last year, seven people were killed in a Russian missile attack on a theatre hosting an exhibition on drones. The city was badly damaged when Russian tanks swept into Ukraine from Belarusian territory in February 2022 and besieged the city until April that year. – AFP

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