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Civilians wrapped in blankets outside a residential building
Most Odesa residents had thought the city was still safeImage: Max Pshybyshevsky/AP/dpa/picture alliance

Russian missile attack claims civilian lives in Odesa

Eugen Theise
April 26, 2022

For the very first time, Russian missile attacks have killed civilians in Ukraine's port city of Odesa. Russian officials have not, however, acknowledged any civilian deaths.


"It's a micrale Olexij is still alive," 20-year-old Mykhailo from Odesa tells DW. He just returned from visiting his friend in hospital. Oleksiy Paradovky had to undergo emergency surgency after a Russian missile hit his apartment in a multi-story residential block. He suffered severe burns to his upper body.

Mykhailo says his friend, whom he knows since school days, was in the bathroom when the missile hit at 2:30 pm on Saturday. "He was buried under rubble, briefly lost and then regained consciousness, and managed to escape his destroyed apartment," Mykhailo says. "He reached the underground carpark, where neighbors hurried to him to put out his smoldering clothes and perform first aid."

Firefighters in a devastated apartment
Olexij's apartment has been devastatedImage: Privat

Mykhailo launched a fundraising campaign to help pay for his friend's costly medical treatment. He was able to collect the equivalent of 7,000€ (7,4800$) — a substantial sum considering Ukraine's economy is teetering on the brink of collapse amid Russia's assault.

Families flock to Odesa for Easter

Russia's missile strike came as a shock to the people of Odesa. Scores of families had come to the port city for Holy Saturday, an important holiday in Orthodox Christianity. "Many families returned to Odesa in time for Easter, after weeks spent hiding in the countryside of western Ukraine from possible Russian attacks," says Mykhailo. "For a long time, Odesa was spared Russian bombings, so many felt safe [to return]." Presently, the front line between Ukrainian and Russian forces lies over 100 kilometers east of Odesa.

A firefighter helps an elderly man
Odesa emergency services aid civilians after the attackImage: State Emergency Service of Ukraine/AFP

Most Odesa residents had left the city in the early weeks of the war, leaving the city almost deserted, save for many elderly people. That has changed. Now, civilians are back. Russia's attack this Saturday killed and injured scores of ordinary people. A mother and her three-month-old baby lost their lives in the attack. As did a newlywed couple, who were expecting a child. They are the first Odesa civilians to be killed in the war, which is now entering its third month. Ukraine's government reports a total of eight people ere killed and a dozen wounded on Saturday.

"A heavy blow," Victor Yorzh tells DW. The missile struck the residential building as the janitor was taking a lunch break in his apartment. He does not have much time to talk, however, as he and several volunteers are busy removing debris from the around the building. He says that "30 to 40 apartments were either destroyed or damaged in our building."

Russia claims missiles were aimed at military airport

Moscow denies its attack claimed civilian lives in Odesa. Official Russian sources claim it used "high precision missiles" to target a military airport. There has been no mention of civilian deaths or casualties. The residential building struck, meanwhile, is situated some 1.5 kilometers southeast of Shkilnyi military airfield. Ukrainians military officials have confirmed that Russia fired several missiles from the Caspian Sea southeast of the city.

Military experts cannot gauge how precisely missiles fired from thousands of kilometers away can strike targets. They believe Russia's military accepts what international humanitarian law calls the risk of "excessive collateral damage," in other words: the risk of harming civilians. Indeed, Shkilnyi military airfield borders on busy residential neighborhoods with several residential tower blocks, a shopping mall, cinema, petting zoo and indoor playground, as well as a DIY store and even a monastery only several hundred meters from the airport.

Debris everywhere
Olga's apartment has ben reduced to rubbleImage: Privat

23-year-old Olga, whose apartment was severely damaged in the missile strike, doubts residential targets were hit accidentally. "The Russians want to stoke panic in Odesa, they are prepared to wipe us out, just as they did with the residents of Mariupol," she tells DW. Olga, who runs a small business, was lucky and sustained only light injuries in the strike. "I was standing in the kitchen, cooking eggs, when the missile hit the neighboring apartments; the air raid sirens had wailed for ten minutes — but I had carelessly ignored them," she says. "Until then, everything had always been fine [when air raid rise siren went off]; I would be dead now if I had sheltered in the bathroom, the missile hit the other side of my apartment."

Ukraine's Russian speakers disillusioned

Mychailo is proud of badly wounded friend Olexij, who is recovering in hospital. "He is a hero, it is incredible he managed to escape from the damaged building despite his severe burns," he tells DW. Mychailo, like so many other Odesa residents, is angry at the Russia aggressor. "Like many friends of mine, I will feel a deep antiparty for the people of Russia for the rest of my life; I grew up speaking Russian, like most people in Odesa, but what Russia is doing right now comes as a shock to us all," he says. Adding that "in future, I want to speak only Ukrainian; I want nothing to do with Russia, nor the language we share."

Mykhailo says Russia claiming it is in this war to protect Ukraine's Russian speakers is nothing but a perfidious pretext. He, like so many others in Odesa, is concerned about the future. More and more Russian officials have said Odesa will be invaded next. Mykhailo, however, says "we will defend Odesa." He also says ordinary Russians who believe the Russian state propaganda are partly to blame for this war.

Odesa prepares for Russian attack

Fortunately, not all Russians believe such propaganda. Maxim Galkin, a popular Russian comedian and television host, recently shared a video in which he lambasts the Russian leadership. In the clip, Galkin says: "Russia has done so much harm, but claims over and over it is innocent. The Bucha massacre? Not our fault. The downed Malaysia Airlines Boeing? That wasn't us. Mariupol, razed to the ground? Not our doing, either. A rocket fired at Odesa? Not us. But what, exactly, are we doing in Ukraine?"

Thousands of viewers have shared his clip online. Galkin lives in Israeli exile. 

This article has been translated from German.

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