Russia struck the Ukrainian Black Sea city of Odesa again on Sunday, keeping up a barrage of attacks that have damaged critical port infrastructure in southern Ukraine in the past week. At least one person was killed and 22 others wounded in the attack in the early hours, officials said.
Regional Gov. Oleh Kiper said that four children were among those wounded in the blasts, which severely damaged 25 landmarks across the city. They included the historic Transfiguration Cathedral.
After the fires were put out, volunteers donned hard hats, shovels and brooms at the cathedral to begin removing rubble, combing through to salvage any artifacts — under the watchful gaze of the saints whose paintings remained intact. Local officials said that the icon of the patroness of the city was retrieved from under the rubble.
“The destruction is enormous, half of the cathedral is now roofless,” Archdeacon Andrii Palchuk said. Cathedral workers brought documents and valuable items out of the building, whose floor was inundated with water used by firefighters to extinguish the fire.
Palchuk said the damage was caused by a direct hit from a Russian missile that penetrated the building down to the basement. Two people who were inside at the time of the strike were wounded.
“But with God’s help, we will restore it,” he said, bursting into tears.
‘This is our Ukrainian heritage’
One of the women who came to help with the cleanup said she loved it “for its tranquility and grace.”
“When you enter this church, you feel like you’re beyond the world,” said Liudmyla, who gave only her first name. “I have a feeling that God, to protect apartments, took this pain, this explosion upon himself.”
Anna Fetchenko, who came to Odesa for a volunteer meeting, also pitched in to clear the debris.
“I wanted to go to the seaside, but last night was so frightening that I cried for the first time in 2023,” she said. “This is our Ukrainian heritage, and now it’s taken away from us.”
Later Sunday, Palchuk urged people to gather in front of the destroyed part of the cathedral for an outdoor service and to pray in front of a sacred icon that “miraculously survived.”
“We will pray that it protects us from the Russians,” he said.
Ukrainian Orthodox Church accused of ties to Russia
The cathedral belongs to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which has been accused of links to Russia. The church has insisted that it’s loyal to Ukraine, has denounced the Russian invasion from the start and has even declared its independence from Moscow.
But Ukrainian security agencies have claimed that some in the Ukrainian church have maintained close ties with Moscow. They’ve raided numerous holy sites of the church and later posted photos of rubles, Russian passports and leaflets with messages from the Moscow patriarch as proof that some church officials have been loyal to Russia.
Odesa’s historic centre was designated an endangered World Heritage Site by UNESCO earlier this year despite Russian opposition.
Kiper, the regional governor, noted that six residential buildings, including apartment buildings, were destroyed by the strikes. In one such case in downtown Odesa, some people became trapped in their apartments as a result of the damage caused by the attack, which left rubble strewn in the street that partly blocked the road, and damage to power lines.
Svitlana Molcharova, 85, was rescued by emergency service workers. But after she received medical aid, she refused to leave her destroyed apartment.
“I will stay here,” she said to the emergency service worker who advised her to leave.
“I woke up when the ceiling started to fall on me. I rushed into the corridor,” said Ivan Kovalenko, 19, another resident of the building. He came to Odesa after fleeing the city of Mykolaiv in search of a safer place to live when his house was destroyed.
“That’s how I lost my home in Mykolaiv, and here, I lost my rented apartment.” In his home, the ceiling partially collapsed, the balcony came off the side of the building and all of the windows were blown out.
Russia launched 19 missiles
Ukraine’s air force reported on the Telegram messaging app that Russia had launched 19 missiles in the Odesa region, including five high-precision winged Onyx missiles and four sea-to-shore Kalibr cruise missiles.
Russia’s Defence Ministry said Sunday that Russian forces had attacked sites in Odesa, “where terrorist acts against the Russian Federation were being prepared.”
In a later statement, the ministry denied that its attacks struck the Transfiguration Cathedral, claiming that the destruction of the cathedral was likely due to “the fall of a Ukrainian anti-aircraft guided missile.”
Russia has been launching persistent attacks on Odesa, a key hub for exporting grain, since Moscow cancelled a landmark grain deal on Monday amid Kyiv’s grinding efforts to retake its occupied territories.
Russian President Vladimir Putin pulled Russia out of the Black Sea Grain Initiative, a wartime deal that enabled Ukraine’s exports to reach many countries facing the threat of hunger.
Earlier Russian attacks this week crippled significant parts of export facilities in Odesa and nearby Chornomorsk, and destroyed 60,000 tons of grain, according to Ukraine’s Agriculture Ministry.
Putin vowed to retaliate against Kyiv for an attack on Monday on the crucial Kerch Bridge linking Russia with the Crimean Peninsula, which the Kremlin illegally annexed in 2014.
In other developments:
- Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko were meeting on Sunday in St. Petersburg, two days after Moscow warned Poland that any aggression against its neighbour and ally Belarus would be considered an attack on Russia.
- Putin announced at the start of the meeting that talks would also take place on Monday and declared that Kyiv’s counteroffensive had failed.
- Lukashenko said that Wagner Group troops, who launched joint drills with the Belarusian military on Thursday, almost a month after their short-lived rebellion against Moscow, wanted to go west “on an excursion to Warsaw, to Rzeszow” in Poland, but that Belarus would not allow them to relocate.
- Kharkiv regional Gov. Oleh Syniehubov reported on Sunday morning that two people were killed in Russian strikes on the northeastern province on Saturday, when Russia attacked populated areas of the Kharkiv, Chuhuiv, Kupiansk and Izium districts.
- Donetsk regional Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said Sunday that four residents of the eastern region were killed and 11 wounded in attacks the previous day.