Ukraine leader accuses Russia of 'terror' in missile strike that killed 21
SERGIYVKA, Ukraine, July 2, 2022 (BSS/AFP) - Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday accused Russia of engaging in state "terror" as he blamed Moscow for missile strikes on a southern resort town that left 21 dead and dozens wounded.
Missiles slammed into an apartment building and a recreation centre in the town of Sergiyvka about 80 kilometres (50 miles) south of the Black Sea port of Odessa, which has become a strategic flashpoint in the now more than four-month-old war.
The attacks took place a day after Moscow abandoned positions on a strategic island in a major setback to the Kremlin's invasion.
The dead included a 12-year-old boy, Zelensky said in his daily address to the nation, adding that some 40 people have been injured and that the death toll could rise.
"I emphasize: this is an act of deliberate, purposeful Russian terror -- and not some kind of mistake or an accidental missile strike," Zelensky said.
"Three missiles hit a regular nine-storey apartment building, in which nobody was hiding any weapons, any military equipment," he added. "Regular people, civilians, lived there."
Sergiy Bratchuk, Odessa deputy chief of district, said on Ukrainian television the strikes were launched by aircraft that flew in from the Black Sea and fired "very heavy and very powerful" missiles.
- 'Inhuman' -
Germany swiftly condemned the violence.
"The cruel manner in which the Russian aggressor takes the deaths of civilians in its stride and is again speaking of collateral damages is inhuman and cynical," said German government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit.
The attacks follow global outrage earlier this week when a Russian strike destroyed a shopping centre in Kremenchuk, central Ukraine, killing at least 18 civilians.
President Vladimir Putin has denied his forces were responsible for that attack and Moscow made no immediate comment on the Odessa strikes.
On Friday, Zelensky hailed a new chapter in its relationship with the European Union, after Brussels recently granted Ukraine candidate status in Kyiv's push to join the 27-member bloc, even if membership is likely years away.
"Our journey to membership shouldn't take decades. We should make it down this road quickly," Zelensky told Ukraine's parliament.
The president of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, addressing Ukrainian lawmakers by video link, said membership was "within reach" but urged them to work on anti-corruption reforms.
Norway, which is not an EU member, on Friday announced $1 billion worth of aid for Kyiv including for reconstruction and weapons.
And the Pentagon said it was sending a new armament package worth $820 million, including two air defence systems and more ammunition for the Himars precision rocket launchers the United States began supplying last month.
- 'Borshch war' -
In a decision that immediately inflamed tensions further between Kyiv and Moscow, the UN's cultural agency inscribed Ukraine's tradition of cooking borshch soup on its list of endangered cultural heritage.
Ukraine considers the nourishing soup, usually made with beetroot, as a national dish although it is also widely consumed in Russia, other ex-Soviet countries and Poland.
UNESCO said the decision was approved after a fast-track process prompted by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
We "will win both in the war of borshch and in this war," said Ukraine's Culture Minister Oleksandr Tkachenko on Telegram.
Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova quipped: "Hummus and pilaf are recognised as national dishes of several nations. Everything is subject to Ukrainisation."
- Phosphorus bombs -
On Thursday, Russian troops abandoned their positions on Snake Island, which had become a symbol of Ukrainian resistance in the first days of the war, and sat aside shipping lanes near Odessa's port.
The Russian defence ministry described the retreat as "a gesture of goodwill" meant to demonstrate that Moscow will not interfere with UN efforts to organise protected grain exports from Ukraine.
But on Friday evening, Kyiv accused Moscow of carrying out strikes using incendiary phosphorus munitions on the rocky outcrop, saying the Russians were unable to "respect even their own declarations".
In peacetime, Ukraine is a major agricultural exporter, but Russia's invasion has damaged farmland and seen Ukraine's ports seized, razed or blockaded -- sparking concerns about food shortages, particularly in poor countries.
Western powers have accused Putin of using the trapped harvest as a weapon to increase pressure on the international community, and Russia has been accused of stealing grain.
Ukraine on Friday asked Turkey to detain a Russian-flagged cargo ship that Kyiv alleged had set off from the Kremlin-occupied port of Berdyansk.
While heavy fighting continued in eastern Ukraine, officials said schools in the Ukrainian capital would re-open at the start of the school year on September 1 for the first in-person classes since lessons went online after the invasion began.
Olena Fidanyan, head of Kyiv's education and science department, said territories adjacent to the schools will be checked for explosives and school bomb shelters will be restocked with essential supplies.