By Associated Press: Russia struck the Ukrainian Black Sea city of Odesa on Sunday, keeping up a barrage of attacks that has damaged critical port infrastructure in southern Ukraine in the past week. At least one person was killed and 22 others wounded in the early morning attack, officials said.
Four children were among those wounded in the blasts, which severely damaged 25 landmarks across the city, including the historic Transfiguration Cathedral.
Russia has been launching repeated attacks on Odesa, a key hub for exporting grain, since Moscow canceled a landmark grain deal on Monday amid Kyiv’s grinding efforts to retake its occupied territories.
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After the fires were put out at the Orthodox cathedral, volunteers donned hard hats, shovels and brooms to begin removing rubble and try to salvage any artifacts — under the watchful gaze of the saints whose paintings remained intact. Local officials said 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,” said Archdeacon Andrii Palchuk, as workers brought documents and valuables out of the building, its floor inundated with water used by firefighters to extinguish the blaze.
Palchuk said the damage was caused by a direct hit from a Russian missile that penetrated the building down to the basement. Two people inside were wounded.
“But with God’s help, we will restore it,” he said, bursting into tears.
A woman who came to help with the cleanup said she loved the cathedral “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.
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“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.
The cathedral belongs to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which has been accused of links to Russia. The church has insisted that it is loyal to Ukraine, has denounced the Russian invasion from the start and even declared its independence from Moscow.
But Ukrainian security agencies have claimed that some in the Ukrainian church maintain close ties with Moscow. They’ve raided numerous church holy sites and posted photos of rubles, Russian passports and leaflets with messages from the Moscow patriarch as proof some church officials are loyal to Russia.
UNESCO strongly condemned the attack on the cathedral and other heritage sites and said it will send a mission in coming days to assess damage. Odesa’s historic center was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site earlier this year, and the agency said the Russian attacks contradict Moscow’s pledge to take precautious to spare World Heritage sites in Ukraine.
“This outrageous destruction marks an escalation of violence against the cultural heritage of Ukraine. I strongly condemn this attack against culture, and I urge the Russian Federation to take meaningful action to comply with its obligations under international law,” UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay said in a statement.
Regional Gov. Oleh Kiper said that six residential buildings were destroyed by the strikes.
Some people were trapped in their apartments following the attack, which left rubble strewn in the street and partly blocking the road.
Svitlana Molcharova, 85, was rescued by emergency workers. But after she received first aid, she refused to leave her destroyed apartment. “I will stay here,” she said.
“I woke up when the ceiling started to fall on me. I rushed into the corridor,” said Ivan Kovalenko, a 19-year-old resident of the building. “That’s how I lost my home in Mykolaiv, and here, I lost my rented apartment.”
His unit revealed a partially collapsed ceiling and a balcony that came off the side of the building. All the windows were blown out.
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. It said that Ukrainian air defenses shot down nine.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said Sunday its forces 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 the destruction of the cathedral was likely due to “the fall of a Ukrainian anti-aircraft guided missile.”
The attacks come days after 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 have 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 Monday on the crucial Kerch Bridge linking Russia with the Crimean Peninsula, which the Kremlin illegally annexed in 2014.