Russian strike on cathedral in Odesa kills at least two

Attack comes after Ukraine’s assault on Crimea base

The Transfiguration Cathedral in Odesa was damaged by a Russian missile strike. Reuters
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At least two people were killed and an 18th century Orthodox Cathedral was severely damaged in Ukraine’s southern port city of Odesa on Sunday morning, amid continuing Russian missile attacks.

The attack drew a pledge of retaliation from Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who denounced the cathedral strike as a "war crime".

Clergymen rescued icons from rubble inside the badly damaged shrine, which was demolished under Joseph Stalin in 1936 and rebuilt in the 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Audrey Azoulay, Unesco's Director General, condemned the "outrageous" attack against culture.

She urged the Russian Federation to "take meaningful action to comply with its obligations under international law, including the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and the 1972 World Heritage Convention".

Since the start of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Unesco has verified damage to 270 cultural sites, including 116 religious sites.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called on the Kremlin to immediately cease all attacks against civilians, civilian infrastructure and cultural property.

The attacks followed a wave of missile attacks in the city on Friday and Saturday after Russia’s exit from the Black Sea Grain Initiative, a deal that allowed 33 million tonnes of grain to be exported from Ukraine’s southern ports. At least one grain silo was destroyed in the attack.

Russian military sites were targeted in suspected Ukrainian drone and missile attacks in Crimea on Saturday, leading to the evacuation of civilians after a large ammunition storage site exploded.

“Odesa: another night attack of the monsters,” Oleh Kiper, governor of southern Ukraine's Odesa region, said on the Telegram messaging app.

At least 19 people were injured, including four children, in the missile attacks that also destroyed six houses and apartment buildings. Fourteen people were admitted to the hospital, he said.

The Spaso-Preobrazhensky Cathedral, or the Transfiguration Cathedral, is Odesa's largest Orthodox church building.

It was built in the 1790s, consecrated in 1809 and is within the UNESCO-protected historic city centre.

Photos and videos showed parts of the building destroyed with rubble inside with several icons lined up on the ground.

Crimea explosions

The Odesa attacks follow a drone attack on an ammunition depot in Crimea which prompted authorities to evacuate a 5km radius and briefly suspend road traffic on the bridge linking the peninsula to Russia, the region's Moscow-installed governor said on Saturday.

Ukraine said its army had destroyed an oil depot and Russian army warehouses in what it called the “temporarily occupied” district of Oktiabrske in central Crimea.

The attack caused an ammunition depot to explode, Russian-installed governor Sergei Aksyonov said, adding there was no reported damage or casualties. Footage shared by state media showed a thick cloud of grey smoke at the site.

Aksyonov later said that all rail traffic in the affected area was back to normal after being disrupted.

Russian news agencies quoted the Health Ministry as saying 12 people required medical assistance and four were taken to the hospital.

Russia seized and annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, eight years before launching its full-scale invasion of the country.

The brief halting of traffic on the Crimean Bridge, about 180km to the east of the drone incident, came five days after explosions killed two people and damaged a section of roadway – the second major attack on the bridge since the start of the war.

The 19km road and rail bridge is a vital logistics link for Russian forces and is also heavily used by Russian tourists who flock to Crimea in summer.

Mr Zelenskyy on Friday said the bridge was a legitimate target because it was a military supply route for Russia.

Updated: July 23, 2023, 8:27 PM