December 4, 2023

SEREHEVKA, Ukraine – Oleksandr Mararenko carried away the bodies of a woman and child early Friday morning after a Russian missile attack, after his forehead was cut short by rescue efforts amid the ruins of a hotel in this sleepy southern port city.

“I couldn’t even tell if the baby was a boy or a girl because the body was so cut off,” he said, pulling his helmet down to get back to his grim task.

The missiles, likely launched from the Black Sea, tore apart the Godji Hotel and an entire section of a nine-storey apartment building, killing at least 21 people in one of the deadliest attacks on civilians since the war in Ukraine began for more than four months. Ago. Rescue workers sorted through the rubble for victims or survivors for several hours after the attack.

Yellow cranes lifted concrete slabs from the wreckage of the collapsed hotel. blankets and laundry are hung next to an apartment building; A purple curtain that was terrifyingly blown away by the shock waves hung from a pine tree. The maple leaves scattered from the trees formed a vast green carpet amid the chaos and bloodshed.

Residents said they heard sirens, followed by three explosions in quick succession. “I was biting them with my teeth, these barbarians,” said Nikolai Tyazchenko, 71. He cried as he stared at a mountain of debris.

Anger at what many people call “Russians” – a part of Russians and fascists popular among Ukrainians – has mounted in a town that has until now been largely protected from war.

There were no obvious military targets in the vicinity of the attack about 50 miles southwest of Odessa. It came a day after Russian forces evacuated Snake Island, a few dozen miles away in the Black Sea, after incessant Ukrainian artillery bombardment.

Snake Island, captured by Russia in February, has earned the status of a flag in the Ukrainian war effort since a Ukrainian soldier stationed on the strategic island used an expletive to tell a Russian warship was lost on him. The Ukrainian Postal Service has released a stamp showing the soldier making an obscene gesture towards the Russian cruiser Moskva, which sank in April. The seal has become a collector’s item.

“This was an act of revenge for the successful liberation of Snake Island,” First Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs Yevin Yenin said in an interview. He mocked Russian claims that leaving the island was a “goodwill” gesture to prove that Moscow was unwilling to close shipping lanes essential to the export of Ukrainian grain.

“It wasn’t a good intention, it was our precise strikes” on Snake Island, he said. However, there was no immediate evidence that this city was targeted in an act of Russian retaliation. Rather, the attack was from a piece with seemingly indiscriminate targeting of residential areas.

President Vladimir Putin this week denied that Russia was responsible for indiscriminate attacks on Ukrainian civilians. “None of us shoot this way indiscriminately,” he said, insisting that Russia targeted Ukraine on the basis of “intelligence data” and “high-precision weapons.”

The Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry S. Peskov, echoing Mr. Putin’s words on Friday, said that Russian forces “do not act against civilian targets in the context of a special military operation” – a term Russia uses for its invasion and war in Ukraine.

But since the start of the war, Russian forces have repeatedly bombed civilian targets—including apartment buildings, a railway station, a theater used as a shelter, a shopping center, and a maternity hospital—and rendered some cities and towns uninhabitable.

The last bastion against the Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine’s Luhansk region, the city of Lyschansk, came under the same heavy and indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas on Friday that devastated its sister city, Severodonetsk, in fighting last month.

“The occupiers are destroying house after house with heavy artillery and other weapons,” said the governor of the Luhansk region, Serhiy Heidi.

Standing in front of the remains of an apartment building in Serhivka, Mr. Lenin said, “Their goal is to frighten the Ukrainian people and put an end to our resistance. But the effect is the opposite. We will never surrender. This is our land.” Referring to Mr. Putin, he said, “Russian society was poisoned by him.”

“I don’t understand much. I only understand that they are killing us, and that’s it,” said Oksana Soroshan, a seamstress, holding her 5-year-old niece behind the apartment building where her second-floor apartment was damaged.

She was sitting with other survivors in a children’s playground where shattered glass was between swings, hammocks and slides. Above it hung the concrete building, with its smashed windows and smashed satellite TV dishes.

It seemed difficult to reconcile the gentle light of the summer sun with the shards of hot metal that fell from the early morning sky. In the fields opposite the building, falling cherries and plums spread across the rich area

“I don’t know why the Russians say they are protecting us from something,” Soroshan said. Are you protecting us by killing us?

Her niece, Margarita, looked at her. “When do we go to town and get mommy?” She asked. Mrs. Sorochan was taking care of the girl for her sister, who lived in another town that the family considered more dangerous.

The Sorochans were awakened by sirens and three explosions, and rushed into the basement of the building. The daughter-in-law of their neighbor was killed, as were the parents of one of Mrs. Sorochan’s friends. “We are afraid to stay here longer,” said her father, Viktor Sorochan.

Another couple approached him, Vyacheslav and Irina Udaynik. Do you live here? “We used to live here,” Mr. Odaynik said. They left with their two children for Moldova in March. But the kids weren’t happy and would come back every now and then for the weekend. “We were here a week ago and everything was peaceful,” he said.

They are now back again to assess the damage to their seventh floor apartment, but they are not allowed in. Mr. Udaynik stared at it.

Sorochan said, “Putin wants to take over Ukraine, all of it.”

More than four months into the war, most Ukrainians seem to see no end to it, although they express a firm conviction that victory will be theirs. Families are scattered. No place seems completely safe, not even a small summer resort in the southwestern corner of Ukraine, far from the Donbass War of Attrition. The weapons that Ukraine possesses are insufficient for a large-scale counterattack, although the expulsion of the Russians from Snake Island demonstrates the depth of the country’s resistance.

“We need more support from the West, and we urge our allies to speed up urgently needed arms shipments,” said Mr. Yenin, Deputy Minister. “These are crucial weeks of the war.” He added that the Russian missiles were “launched from the Black Sea”.

A large piece of shrapnel had lodged in a tree not far from him, in a perilous position. At the end of the street, an investigator collected the shrapnel, measured them, and arranged them according to size. It seemed like hard work, like that of the rescuers digging deeper into the collapsed hotel, not sure what they would find.

Alla Beshentseva, 52, watched the rescue work from under a tree. She lived in the town for 33 years, working in a sanatorium. “I’m very nervous,” she said. “I didn’t quite realize the extent of what had happened.”

She looked tense. The unimaginable – death from a clear sky and for no reason – is now the daily reality of Ukraine.

Alan Juhas Reporting contributed from New York.

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