2 killed in Russian barrage on Odesa; UNESCO-recognized cathedral badly damaged

Dozens injured; Moscow says strikes targeted ‘terrorists,’ denies firing at historic Transfiguration Cathedral, claiming destruction likely due to Ukrainian anti-aircraft rocket

Church personnel inspect damage inside the Odesa Transfiguration Cathedral following Russian missile attacks in Odesa, Ukraine, July 23, 2023. (Jae C. Hong/AP)
Church personnel inspect damage inside the Odesa Transfiguration Cathedral following Russian missile attacks in Odesa, Ukraine, July 23, 2023. (Jae C. Hong/AP)

ODESA, Ukraine (AP) — Russia struck the Ukrainian Black Sea city of Odesa again on Sunday, local officials said, keeping up a barrage of attacks that has damaged critical port infrastructure in southern Ukraine in the past week. At least two people were killed and 22 others wounded in the attack in the early hours.

Regional Governor Oleh Kiper said that four children were among those wounded in the blasts, which severely damaged the historic Transfiguration Cathedral, a landmark Orthodox cathedral in the city.

Russia has been launching persistent attacks on Odesa, a key hub for exporting grain, since Moscow canceled a landmark grain deal on Monday amid Kyiv’s grinding efforts to retake its occupied territories.

Kiper noted that six residential buildings, including apartment buildings, were destroyed by the strikes.

In one such case in downtown Odesa, some people became trapped in their apartments as a result of the damage caused by the attack, which left rubble strewn in the street and partly blocking the road, and damage to power lines.

Svitlana Molcharova, 85, was rescued by emergency service workers. But after she received first medical aid, she refused to leave her destroyed apartment.

“I will stay here,” she said to the emergency service worker who advised her to leave.

An elderly woman talks to an emergency worker in her apartment heavily damaged in Russian missile attacks in Odesa, Ukraine, July 23, 2023. (Jae C. Hong/AP)

“I woke up when the ceiling started to fall on me. I rushed into the corridor,” said Ivan Kovalenko, 19, another resident of the building. He came to Odesa having fled the city of Mykolaiv in search of a safer place to live after his house was destroyed.

“That’s how I lost my home in Mykolaiv, and here, I lost my rented apartment.”

In his home, the ceiling partially collapsed, the balcony came off the side of the building, and all the windows were blown out.

The Transfiguration Cathedral, one of the most important and largest Orthodox Cathedrals in Odesa, was severely damaged.

“The destruction is enormous, half of the cathedral is now roofless,” said Archdeacon Andrii Palchuk, as cathedral workers brought documents and valuable items out of the severely building, the floor of which was inundated with water used by firefighters to extinguish the fire.

Palchuk said the damage was caused by a direct hit from a Russian missile that penetrated the building down to the basement and caused significant damage. Two people who were inside at the time of the strike were wounded.

“But with God’s help, we will restore it,” he said, bursting into tears.

Firefighters walk inside the Odesa Transfiguration Cathedral, heavily damaged in a Russian missile attack in Odesa, Ukraine, July 23, 2023. (Libkos/AP)

Odesa’s historic center was designated an endangered World Heritage Site by the United Nations’ cultural agency, UNESCO, earlier this year, despite Russian opposition.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said Sunday that Russian forces had attacked sites in Odesa, “where terrorist acts against the Russian Federation were being prepared.”

The ministry said in a statement that the strikes were carried out with sea- and air-based long-range high-precision weapons, and that there are “foreign mercenaries” at the targeted sites.

In a later statement, the ministry denied that its attacks had struck the Transfiguration Cathedral, claiming that the destruction of the cathedral was likely due to “the fall of a Ukrainian anti-aircraft guided missile.”

Earlier Russian attacks this week crippled significant parts of export facilities in Odesa and nearby Chornomorsk and destroyed 60,000 tons of grain, according to Ukraine’s Agriculture Ministry.

The attacks come days after President Vladimir Putin pulled Russia out of the Black Sea Grain Initiative, a wartime deal that enabled Ukraine’s exports to reach many countries facing the threat of hunger.

Putin vowed to retaliate against Kyiv for an attack Monday on the crucial Kerch Bridge linking Russia with the Crimean Peninsula, which the Kremlin illegally annexed in 2014.

People clean up inside the Odesa Transfiguration Cathedral after it was heavily damaged in Russian missile attacks in Odesa, Ukraine, July 23, 2023. (Jae C. Hong/AP)

In other developments, Russian president Vladimir Putin and Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko were to meet on Sunday in St Petersburg, two days after Moscow warned Poland that any aggression against its neighbor and ally Belarus, would be considered an attack on Russia. Putin announced near the start of the meeting that talks would also take place on Monday, and declared that Kyiv’s counteroffensive had failed.

Meanwhile, Kharkiv regional Gov. Oleh Syniehubov reported Sunday morning that two people were killed in Russian strikes on the northeastern province on Saturday, when Russia attacked populated areas of the Kharkiv, Chuhuiv, Kupiansk and Izium districts.

Donetsk regional Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said Sunday that four residents of the eastern region were killed on Saturday, with 11 further wounded.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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