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The 15-storey building on the outskirts of Odessa has large holes in both sides, as if it were pierced by an arrow. The „wound” is blackened from the blast, and the block appears weakened by the gap on the fourth floor.
On the sidewalks and on the tram track that runs nearby scraps of clothes are spread everywhere, along with pieces of closets, walls and windows; a little bit of everything that for a few dozen people meant „home” – until this week.
Hours after the Russian missile attack on the residential building in Odesa, emergency crews are still pulling dead bodies from the rubble.
A provisional death toll released by the authorities has reported eight people killed and at least 18 injured. Among those who lost their lives on Saturday were a mother, her three-month-old baby and the baby’s grandmother, according to Ukrainian President Volodimir Zelenski.
On the fourth floor, close to the spot most affected by the blast, a good friend of Artem’s lived. As the 23-year-old told PressOne reporters, Artem hasn’t been able to reach his friend since the attack happened, around 2pm. He is no longer answering his phone.
He lived there with his wife; Artem has no information about her either.
„I hope to find out that they are okay and that they are in hospital, that’s what I want most,” Artem tells us with a worried look in his eye.
He is not the only one in this situation. A large group of people gathered a few dozen metres from the block hit by the rockets, all of them survivors hoping to find out what happened to their neighbours and friends. Some are covered in blankets, to cope with the cold that sets in with the evening. Their cell phone conversations are long and interrupted by tears.
A woman, a French teacher, tells us that she can’t understand why the neighbourhood would possibly be a target, as there are no military units in the area, just a police station, a little further away from where we are.
The confusion is shared by other residents of the neighbourhood.
Svetlana, along with her son, managed to escape the building because her apartment was on the ninth floor. It all happened quickly, as she remembers: a loud noise and things started flying around.
She’s glad she escaped – more so, since she’s also pregnant with her second child. But she’s waiting to see what happened to her neighbours.
On Easter night, the residents of Odesa brought flowers to the scene of the attack and volunteers came with hot tea to encourage those who escaped with their lives.
The government in Kiev believes that the Russian missile strikes in Odesa were meant to inspire fear and reduce the Ukrainians’ willingness to fight. Moscow claims it attacked military targets. In fact, locals in the city heard several explosions on Saturday.
From the information released by Ukrainian government officials, it is unclear as to what the Russians may have been targeting.
In the two months since the invasion started, it is not the first time that Moscow’s troops attacked Odesa and the surrounding region with missiles, but so far, it’s been mostly military targets and strategic infrastructure. Until now, the city has not suffered mass casualty attacks, as other regions in Ukraine.
Alarm signals have also been raised by the recent statement of a Russian general’s that Russia’s goal is to take full control of eastern and southern Ukraine, including Odesa. In addition, there have been rumours that Russia would like to create a land corridor all the way to Transnistria, in the Republic of Moldova, where Russian troops are already stationed.
These days, Odesa looks like something out of a World War II archive photo. The centre is lined with sandbag barricades and steel „X”s to keep the tanks out.
Soldiers are everywhere and the shops have covered their windows with plywood.
The war also affected the Easter night church service, as Ukrainians were not allowed to leave the house from 11pm until 5am, a restriction imposed by the Kiev authorities for fear of provocations.
So on Easter morning, around 7am, Orthodox believers flocked to churches, with woven baskets in their hands, carrying Easter cake, painted eggs and bottles of red wine to be blessed by priests. They also lit candles.
At the Transfiguration Cathedral, the city’s most important church, Irina, 34, brought eggs coloured blue and yellow like the country’s flag.
She remembers the previous day’s explosions, as she was in the same area as the bombed apartment building. She finds it hard to understand how the Russians could do this before a big religious holiday like Easter. She hopes God will punish those behind the attack.
She’s trying to be brave: „We are at home, we are not afraid. It’s our home and we will defend it.”
But some of the other church goers we met confessed their fear. One woman entered the cathedral crying and barely held back her tears as she stood inside.
At another downtown church, Sasha came to pray with his wife and daughter. He calls them „my ladies”. They had just returned from Germany, where they had taken refuge for a while. They came home for Easter, only to realise they might not have much time to be together.
„It’s terrible to be separated from your family, a part of you remains home with them and you never know if you’ll ever see them again or not”, Sasha says. He is not allowed to leave Ukraine because he is fit for military service.
At the morning service, together with his reunited family, Sasha prayed that peace would finally come to Ukrainians too.
Banca Transilvania, Sucursala Cluj-Napoca
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