MYKOLAIV: Several days of calm in the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv came to an abrupt end around breakfast-time Tuesday, when a Russian rocket strike ripped a gaping hole through local government building, killing seven people.
AFP journalists saw dust-covered rescue workers in hard hats pull two bodies from the debris as they searched for survivors: a man in uniform and an elderly woman, whose body they covered in a green sheet.
“Most people escaped miraculously,” regional governor Vitaly Kim wrote on Facebook, confirming that regional government office had been targeted.
Initially, he said, several civilians and soldiers were unaccounted for.
Later — during an address to Danish lawmakers — President Volodymyr Zelensky described the true scale of the strike.
“As far as we know now seven people were killed, 22 were wounded, and people are still going through the rubble,” Zelensky said in a video address to the parliament.
“I was having breakfast in my apartment,” Donald, 69, a retired Canadian postal worker with Ukrainian residency told AFP. “I heard a whoosh, then a boom and my windows rattled.
“It’s scary. We have been lucky here in Mykolaiv. We haven’t had that many explosions in the centre of the city,” he added.
The tall administrative building was left with a large section torn away, its rows of windows all blown out and its base surrounded by large chunks of concrete.
In the aftermath of the attack, you could look through the massive hole left in the building to see the cloudless spring sky on the other side.
Mykolaiv, a key southern port city, has seen fierce fighting since Moscow launched its invasion late last month. But it had been quiet in recent days until Tuesday morning’s strike.
The Russian army has been falling back southeast towards Kherson, the only major Ukrainian city it claims complete control of — and now the focus of a Ukrainian counter-offensive.
Outside a nearby residential complex, locals shaken by the blast — some still in their pyjamas — exchanged information about the attack and observed the damage.
Among them was Yelena Dovgykh, 65, in slippers and carrying a little dog and a plastic bag with documents under her arm.
She was making breakfast when she heard the strike, she told AFP. “I went down just as I was. I took my papers and my dog.”
Another resident, Svetlana Fedorenko, cut her hand picking up broken glass from her balcony and living room kitchen. But she has known worse, she insisted.
“Putin is a bastard. That’s all there is to it,” said Viktor Gaivonenko, a neighbour who came to help her clean up the debris, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
He was targeting governor Kim and Zelensky because “they boost the morale of the people and our soldiers,” said Fedorenko.
“He wants to get revenge for the resistance Mykolaiv is putting up that’s blocking him from reaching Odessa,” she added.
Governor Kim appeared to agree.
Russian forces “realised they couldn’t take Mykolaiv and decided to say hello to me, to say hello to all of us,” Kim wrote after the strikes, adding that his own office had been destroyed.
Mykolaiv is a key city on the road to Odessa, Ukraine’s biggest port, and its capture would be a significant one for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, launched in late February.
Just a day before the attack, residents had been marking the 78th anniversary of the liberation of Mykolaiv from the Nazis by Soviet Red Army troops towards the end of World War Two.
On Mykolaiv’s central avenue, a monument commemorating those soldiers stands a Soviet T-34/85 tank, with fresh flowers lying at its base.
“We drove out the Nazis in 1944,” Ukraine’s defence ministry said in a statement this week to mark the occasion.
“We will not give the Russian fascists a chance in 2022.”