Emergency workers say at least 12 of those hurt are children as Volodymyr Zelensky condemns strike on Chernihiv
19 August 2023
At least seven people were killed and more than 100 injured when a Russian missile hit a theatre hosting an event for drone designers in Chernihiv on Saturday.
Ukrainian officials said people going to church to celebrate a religious festival were also among the dead.
“The victims were in vehicles, walking across pedestrian crossings, walking from all three churches,” said Igor Klymenko, Ukraine’s interior minister. “We must clearly document this war crime.”
Videos showed debris scattered across a square in front of the centuries-old theatre, where parked cars were heavily damaged. A body was inside one car and another, that of a young man or boy, lay on the ground.
One photograph showed a man sitting in the road next to a stretcher, with a foil blanket covering his wife’s body. Emergency workers said that at least 12 of the injured were children and 10 were policemen.
Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, who was on a visit to Sweden to organise the transfer of more weapons, condemned the attack.
“This is what we unite the whole world against. A Russian missile hit right in the centre of the city, in our Chernihiv,” he wrote on Telegram.
“A square, the polytechnic university, a theatre. An ordinary Saturday, which Russia turned into a day of pain and loss.”
Chernihiv, a city of leafy boulevards and ancient churches, is around 90 miles north of Kyiv, the capital. It is close to the border with Belarus, and had been on the front line of the first waves of the invasion in February last year.
The interior ministry said the roof of the theatre had been destroyed in the strike.
Ukrainian social media users said that the Russian military may have deliberately targeted the theatre, which was hosting a meeting of drone designers that had been advertised online.
However, one of the organisers said they had only told participants the exact time and place of the event the day before.
“The event was officially agreed with the local authorities in advance, the venue was provided by the local authorities,” Maria Berlinska wrote in a Facebook post. “All participants were checked by the police at the entrance, doctors were on duty.”
She said the event had been suspended when the air raid siren sounded, and people were told to run to a shelter, adding: “Unfortunately, some people still went outside. Condolences to the dead and wounded. Believe me, I would like to die instead of them.”
Drones have become a vital and sophisticated weapon for Ukraine since Russia’s invasion last year. Ukrainian aerial drones now evade Russian air defences to hit Moscow, and maritime drones target warships hundreds of miles across the Black Sea.
A video showed the moment that the missile struck Chernihiv. In it, a young woman in a white dress poses for a photo against the blue sky. She then hears the roar of the approaching missile, and turns and gasps as the theatre explodes behind her.
Ukrainian commentators said that, while US and German Patriot missile defence systems now guarded Kyiv from most Russian missile attacks, provincial cities were still very vulnerable.
Earlier on Saturday, a Ukrainian drone struck a military airfield in Russia’s northern Novgorod region, which commentators said housed the Tupolev strategic bombers that the Kremlin has been using to fire missiles at Ukraine.
The Russian ministry of defence said nobody was hurt and the fire was quickly extinguished. The Novgorod region lies north-west of Moscow, hundreds of miles from Russia’s border with Ukraine.
“As a result of the terrorist attack on the territory of the airfield, a fire broke out in the parking lot of aircraft, which was quickly eliminated by firefighters. One aircraft was damaged,” the ministry said in a statement.
Drone strikes inside Russia have increased in recent months. One hit a building in central Moscow on Friday after Russian air defences shot it down, disrupting air traffic at all civilian airports in the Russian capital.