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International News: Russian missiles kill at least 21 in Ukraine’s Odesa region (7/2/22)

Cement trucks were parked on Friday at a construction site of an apartment building under construction for residents of Mariupol affected by hostilities in the territory under the government of the Donetsk People’s Republic of eastern Ukraine.

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POKROVSK, Ukraine – A Russian airstrike in a residential area near the Ukrainian port of Odessa on Friday morning killed at least 21 people, authorities say, as the city appears to have reduced the threat a day after Moscow’s withdrawal from a Black Sea island.

The video of the attack just before dawn showed the ruins of a building in the small town of Serhivka, about 50 kilometers (31 miles) from Odessa. The warplane fired three missiles that hit an apartment building and a camp site, the Ukrainian president’s office said.

Ukrainian authorities described the attack as a retaliation for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Snake Island a day earlier, although Moscow described their departure as a “goodwill gesture” to help block grain exports.

In the early days of the war, Russian forces took control of the island, apparently hoping to use it as a platform to attack Odessa, Ukraine’s largest port and its naval headquarters.

“The occupiers cannot win the battle, so they resort to the heinous killing of civilians,” said Ivan Bakanov, head of Ukraine’s security service, SBU. “After expelling the enemy from Snake Island, he decided to respond with brutal fire on civilian targets.”

A large number of civilians were killed in Russian bombings before the war, including a hospital, a theater used as a shelter and a train station. As of this week, widespread casualties involving residents have become less frequent as Moscow concentrates on occupying the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.

After weeks of relative calm around the capital, Russian missiles hit the Kyiv region last weekend and an air strike on a shopping mall in the central city of Kremenchuk on Monday killed at least 19 people.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has expressed outrage at Friday’s attack.

“These missiles were designed to destroy Kh-22s, aircraft carriers and other large warships, and were used by the Russian military against a typical nine-story building with civilians,” he said.

According to Ukrainian news reports, 21 people were killed, including a 21-year-old boy, his mother and the 42-year-old coach of the children’s football team. Another 36 people, including six children and a pregnant woman, were admitted to the hospital. Emergency services in Ukraine said most of the dead were in apartment buildings.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov reiterated that Moscow was not targeting residential areas.

Oleh Zhadanov, an independent Ukrainian military analyst, says Russia’s return from Snake Island carries “a lot of psychological significance” for Ukraine.

“Snake Island is the key to controlling the Black Sea and if the Kremlin chooses for an amphibious landing expedition to Odessa or elsewhere in the region, it could help cover up the Russian invasion,” he said. “Now those plans have been pushed back.”

Ukraine’s military claims a barrage of artillery and missiles forced the Russians to flee the island in two small speedboats. Exactly how many troops have been withdrawn was not disclosed.

Early in the war, the island became a symbol of Ukrainian disobedience. When a Russian warship demanded the surrender of its guards, they presumably replied: “Go by yourself (of course).”

Zelensky said that although the withdrawal did not guarantee the security of the Black Sea region, it would “significantly limit” Russian activity there.

In eastern Ukraine, Russian forces have continued their push to lay siege to the city of Lysichansk, the last stronghold of Luhansk’s resistance, which consists of the two provinces of Donbass.

“The shelling is very intense in the city,” said Serhi Haidai, the governor of Luhansk. “The occupiers are destroying one house after another with heavy artillery and other weapons. Residents of Lisichansk have been hiding in the basement for about twenty-four hours.”

Haidai says the Russians are fighting for control of an oil refinery on the outskirts of the city. But Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said Russian and separatist forces had taken control of a refinery as well as a mine and a gelatin factory.

Ukraine’s president’s office says Russian attacks in the past 24 hours have also killed civilians in eastern Ukraine – four in the northeastern Kharkiv region and four more in Donetsk province.

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