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Russian strike kills 18 people in Kharkiv megastore, the deadliest attack Ukraine has seen in weeks


Eighteen people, including a 12-year-old girl, were among those killed in a Russian strike that hit a department store in Kharkiv over the weekend, regional officials said, making it the deadliest attack deadliest that Ukraine has seen in several weeks.

Five people are still missing, Oleh Syniehubov, head of the military administration of the Kharkiv region, said Monday. He said 48 people were injured in the strike which hit the Epicenter hypermarket shopping center building while nearly 200 people were inside.

Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city near the border with Russia, has been the scene of a wave of Russian attacks in recent weeks.

Security camera footage from the moment of the attack shows the building shaking upon impact, with the entire site immediately engulfed in thick smoke and flames. Police and witnesses described at least two explosions.

Oleksandr Lutsenko, director of the Epicenter shopping center, said he was in his office on the second floor when the two explosions occurred.

“I started to walk down the corridor to the evacuation exit, but it was dark and the whole corridor was covered in dust. There was no air to breathe,” he told CNN by phone.

“The employees were leaving too. Everyone was groping and people were hugging each other. We could hear the ceiling falling. »

Once outside, he notices that the hypermarket is on fire. “There was black smoke everywhere and it was difficult to breathe. Some people were jumping out of windows,” Lutsenko added.

Ukrainian Interior Minister Ihor Klymenko said the hours following the strike had been “hellish” and thanked everyone who helped put out the fires. Photographs taken inside the store after the attack show the building in complete ruin, with stock burned and walls collapsed.

Kostiantyn Liberov/Libkos/Getty Images

Rescue workers carry the body of a victim of a Russian strike that hit a department store in Kharkiv.

The Ukrainian Catholic University identified the slain 12-year-old girl as Maria Myronenko, saying in a Facebook post that she died in the strike alongside her mother, Iryna, who was a student at the institute. His father was also injured and was being treated at the hospital, according to the release.

Serhii Bolvinov, head of the Kharkiv regional police investigation department, said the family was shopping when the two bombs struck. Maria’s older sister, Nadiya, 20, was not with them at the time and only learned of the death after finding her father in hospital.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky denounced the strike as a “brutal attack,” saying “Russia is led by men who want to make this a norm – burning lives, destroying towns and villages, dividing people and erasing national borders by war.

Zelensky, who was in Spain for an official visit on Monday, urged Ukraine’s allies to provide it with more air defense.

During his meeting with Zelensky in Madrid, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez on Monday announced a new $1.08 billion arms deal for Ukraine, which “aims to strengthen air defense systems” and protect Ukrainian citizens and infrastructure from Russian attacks.

“We are sending Patriot missiles,” Sanchez said of the American-built air defense system. “Zelensky asks the platforms to launch them, and asks how many we can donate. We are sending a new batch of Leopard tanks and, above all, ammunition that the (Ukrainian) troops need.”

Zelensky was scheduled to visit Spain earlier this month, but his trip was postponed due to the Russian offensive around Kharkiv and other parts of Ukraine. This offensive appears to be continuing, with Kharkiv suffering intense attacks on a daily basis.

The United States announced Friday that it was sending $275 million in military assistance to Ukraine as part of “efforts to help Ukraine repel Russia’s assault near Kharkiv,” according to the Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

America’s top diplomat said the new tranche of aid “contains capabilities that Ukrainian troops urgently need” as they struggle to halt Russia’s advance toward the key northeastern city.

News of the new military assistance came as Ukraine’s Defense Ministry dampened hopes that French military trainers could soon be in Ukraine after online comments from army chief Oleksandr Syrskyi appeared to suggest that their arrival in the country was a done deal.

“I welcome France’s initiative to send instructors to Ukraine to train Ukrainian military personnel,” Syrskyi wrote on Telegram following a video conference between himself and the defense ministers of the two countries . “I have already signed the documents which will allow the first French instructors to visit our training centers and familiarize themselves with the infrastructure and staff.”

Syrskyi’s statement gave no possible timetable, but seemed to indicate that France was ready to make what would be a very significant change in the involvement of NATO countries in the war between Ukraine and Russia.

Further reinforcing this sentiment, Syrskyi added: “I believe that France’s determination will encourage other partners to join this ambitious project. I thanked the minister for the friendly support of the French people and the military and economic assistance provided to Ukraine to repel Russian military aggression.

In a subsequent comment to CNN, apparently intended to lower expectations and possibly appease key allies, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry toned down the language, saying kyiv had “expressed interest in the prospect of hosting foreign instructors in Ukraine” since a conference in Paris at the end of February.

“We have ongoing discussions with France and other countries on this issue and have initiated internal formalities to move forward when the decision is made,” the short press release concludes.

The French Defense Ministry, in a comment to CNN, had a similar message regarding military trainers.

“As with all projects discussed at the conference, we continue to work with the Ukrainians to understand their exact needs,” the statement said.

At the Paris conference, French President Emmanuel Macron floated the idea that sending military trainers to Ukraine was a way for kyiv’s Western allies to deploy troops in the country.

Additional reporting by Victoria Butenko and Daria Tarasova Markina in kyiv and Xiaofei Xu in Paris

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