Ukraine crisis: Rocket attack in Mariupol kills and injures dozens

Pro-Russian separatists say offensive to take city has begun

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The Independent Online

The day had barely begun for residents of Mariupol’s eastern district when the rockets fell. Some were buying groceries at the market, some were taking a morning stroll with children, and others were having a weekend lie-in.

Yesterday’s strike is the most serious incident so far this year in Ukraine’s troubled east. Fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists has intensified in recent days. After the rocket fire, Alexander Zakharchenko, the rebel leader, claimed an offensive to take Mariupol had begun.

Albina Gavrikova, 20, was staying with friends. She woke up to the sound of a rocket striking the apartment block. “The walls were falling in, everything was shaking, and the shock wave was immense.” She said that, as a journalist, she knew the drill about how to behave in such situations, and shouted to her friends to hit the floor and cover their heads. “I’ve never been so terrified in all my life: my entire body was covered in sweat,” Ms Gavrikova told The Independent on Sunday.

 

An official count last night put the number of dead at least 30, including two children, and 96 injured, including seven children. Medical staff at the city hospital estimated that half of the 25 people who had been admitted to their care remained in a “critical” state. The number of dead and injured is expected to increase over coming days.

A Mariupol city council press release claimed that reconnaissance had shown three loads of rockets had been fired, with 40 rockets per load.

Ole Solvang, a senior researcher in the emergencies division of the NGO Human Rights Watch, arrived in Mariupol within a few hours of the shelling. Crater analysis had shown “fairly definitively” that the missiles were coming from an eastern direction, and “most likely” from the area currently controlled by Russian-backed forces. Ukraine has repeatedly alleged that Russian forces are involved in the conflict, something that Russia has denied.

Mr Solvang added that they had been unable to identify any discernible military target in the immediate area of the attack, and that locals claimed the nearest military checkpoint was two kilometres away.

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An official count on Saturday night put the number of dead at 29, although that is expected to increase over coming days (AFP/Getty)

Observers from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) called the incident “a reckless, indiscriminate and disgraceful attack aimed at a heavily populated residential area”. The head of the OSCE monitoring mission, Ertugrul Apakan, said that women, children and the elderly were among the victims.

Speaking at a vigil for the 13 people killed during Thursday’s shelling of a busy transport exchange to the south of Donetsk, Mr Zakharchenko claimed that an offensive to take Mariupol had begun and that, within two days, his forces would have encircled Debaltseve, another vulnerable Ukrainian-held town north-east of Donetsk. There was “no better way to pay respect to those killed”, he said.

Large parts of Mariupol were without electricity last night. Dmitry Chaly, a Ukrainian military spokesman, said that, while the shelling had halted, he could not rule out the possibility of rebels launching further strikes which, he added, could potentially reach the city centre.

Serhiy Taruta, a local MP and former regional governor who has been involved in the defence of Mariupol, was appalled by the attack. “Top commanders of the Russian army should be held responsible for the death of every Ukrainian citizen killed in this war,” he said.

Additional reporting by Charlie Cooper

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