Wednesday, 17 Jul 2024

Mother and Child’s Desperate Run for Cover in Kyiv Ends Outside Locked Shelter

Listening to the wail of air-raid sirens, a mother and her 9-year-old daughter raced through the Ukrainian capital’s early morning darkness on Thursday to a clinic, where a bomb shelter promised escape from another Russian missile barrage.

But the clinic was locked, the authorities said. After explosions roared, the woman and her daughter were found dead among green trees and broken glass, just outside the door. So was another woman.

“People were knocking, knocking for a very long time,” the husband of the third victim, who gave his name as Yaroslav, told Ukraine’s public broadcaster. “There were women and children and nobody opened it.”

The authorities, who announced an investigation into why the shelter in the capital, Kyiv, was inaccessible, did not name those who died. They described the girl, her mother, 34, and the other woman, 33, as the latest casualties of Russia’s punishing and relentless campaign on civilians.

The increased pace of Russian missile volleys — there were 17 aerial attacks in May — came as Ukraine was readying a long-anticipated counteroffensive to retake occupied land. At the same time, Russians in border regions, especially Belgorod, have described the chaotic evacuations of children, older people and other residents, along with heavy shelling by Ukraine.

The day’s attacks coincided with International Children’s Day, a reminder of the catastrophic toll that Russia’s invasion has inflicted on children and families.

Hours before the sirens sounded in Kyiv on Thursday, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine had likened the experience of Ukrainian children to that of Anne Frank, the Jewish girl who documented her family’s life in hiding during World War II. At a conference focusing on children on Wednesday, he read from the diary of Yehor, an 8-year-old boy from Mariupol, the city besieged, devastated and captured by Russia last year.

“War. I slept well, woke up and smiled,” he read. “My sister has a head wound. My mom has flesh torn out of her arm and a wound on her leg.”

He continued, “My grandmother, Galya, two dogs and my favorite city of Mariupol died.”

At least 535 children have been killed and 1,000 others injured in Ukraine since Russia invaded last year, the United Nations said on Thursday, though many believe the toll is higher. Most of those casualties, the United Nations said, were caused by explosive weapons like artillery, missiles and airstrikes.

“When there are air-raid sirens every night, and just sleeping is happiness, it is valuable,” Mr. Zelensky said in his remarks. “When there are missile attacks every night, and waking up in the morning is truly priceless.”

The Russian missiles, flying about five times the speed of sound, left little time for residents to find shelter on Thursday. Ukraine’s air defenses shot at the missiles six minutes after the alarm sounded, hitting them all, the Kyiv military administration said.

But an interceptor missile near the clinic struck one of the 10 Russian missiles, Mayor Vitali Klitschko said, and the child and her mother were killed by the fiery debris. The girl’s grandmother arrived as dawn broke to identify the bodies.

For night after night over the past month, Kyiv’s 3.6 million residents have jolted out of bed and fled for cover under the fire of Russian missiles, many exploding in the skies and casting down life-threatening wreckage.

Mr. Klitschko said on Telegram that an additional 16 people were injured by debris from air-defense systems shooting down incoming missiles.

The police have opened two criminal inquiries into the clinic shelter, Mariana Reva, the chief spokeswoman for the Ministry of Internal Affairs, announced on Thursday.

The mayor said investigators would focus on whether the shelter had been properly maintained and why it might have been inaccessible. Police officers would now patrol bomb shelters during air raids to make sure they are open, he added.

The first deputy of Kyiv’s Desnyansky District, the director and deputy director of the clinic, and a security guard were detained, the Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office said late Thursday.

“Never again should a situation like this night in Kyiv, when people came to the shelter and the shelter is closed, happen again,” Mr. Zelensky said Thursday night.

Though Kyiv has been attacked since the first days of the war, the intensity of Russian assaults over the past month has been jarring even for civilians accustomed to spending hours in bomb shelters and sleepless nights huddled in corridors.

The strikes on Thursday suggested that the campaign would continue into June.

Russia’s renewed pressure on Kyiv, military analysts say, may in part be an attempt to keep air defenses tied up far from the battlefield as Ukraine readies an offensive. In Russia’s border regions, like Belgorod, an atmosphere of frontline fear has descended on towns and villages that Russian officials say have come under Ukrainian shelling.

“We live in the conditions of de facto war,” Belgorod’s governor, Vyacheslav Gladkov, said on Russian state television this week, breaking with the Kremlin’s usual euphemism of “special military operation” for the conflict. “Whether you like it or not, this war is going on. The enemy is coming in.”

“People were running out of the buildings, throwing belongings in the car and rapidly, rapidly speeding out,” said a Belgorod resident named Elena, who asked that her last name not be used for fear of breaking Russia’s draconian speech laws. “It was scary; the town has emptied out.”

On Thursday, Russia claimed heavy shelling by Ukraine’s forces had damaged the town hall of Shebekino, just a few miles from the border, knocking out power and forcing an evacuation. Russian officials also said security forces had fended off an attempted incursion by anti-Kremlin fighters, even as the fighters posted video footage they said showed battles on the town’s outskirts. Neither side’s account could be confirmed.

Anxiety has grown since the fighters, two Russian paramilitary groups aligned with Kyiv, staged a brazen two-day attack in a nearby area, briefly taking several villages. Ukraine publicly denied involvement, but the fighters said they were supported by the Ukrainian authorities.

The seriousness of the attacks in Shebekino was indirectly acknowledged by the Kremlin, whose spokesman on Thursday told reporters that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia was receiving regular updates from the town.

Russian border regions have been targets of missile strikes and raids since early in the war, but the intensity of attacks has grown since Kyiv pushed the Russian Army out of northeastern Ukraine last fall, bringing Ukrainian forces to the Russian borders.

On Thursday, Governor Gladkov of Belgorod said that hundreds of Shebekino residents, mostly older people and families with children, were being evacuated. A video posted on a Shebekino community page purported to show activists evacuating children from the town. The evacuation Mr. Gladkov announced would be the largest such measure in the country in decades.

Another community page dedicated to Shebekino showed pleas for help in evacuating older relatives from the city. “Please, help evacuate grandpa from Shebekino, I beg you,” a user identified as Victoria wrote on the social network VK.

The Kremlin has largely remained silent on the situation in Russian border regions, and Mr. Putin only briefly commented on this week’s drone attacks on Moscow, telling a reporter that Russia’s defenses had proved adequate.

After the bombardment in Kyiv on Thursday, the Ukrainian authorities canceled some Children’s Day events as they sought to keep people safe and clean up the streets.

Yaroslav, whose wife was among the victims in Kyiv, told the broadcaster Suspilne that he had found her bleeding alongside a blanket she had brought for their own 9-year-old daughter. He said the girl had not been injured, but had seen what happened to her mother.

Reporting was contributed by Andrew E. Kramer, Oleg Matsnev, Alina Lobzina, Dmitriy Khavin, Nicole Tung, Victoria Kim and Anushka Patil.

Marc Santora has been reporting from Ukraine since the beginning of the war with Russia. He was previously based in London as an international news editor focused on breaking news events and earlier the bureau chief for East and Central Europe, based in Warsaw. He has also reported extensively from Iraq and Africa. @MarcSantoraNYT

Anatoly Kurmanaev is a foreign correspondent covering Russia’s transformation after its invasion of Ukraine. @akurmanaev

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