Dueling Narratives on Kiev Attack as Mariupol Braces for More Devastation

The attack happened around 11 p.m., when the mall was closed: Obviously had it occurred at 11 a.m. there could have been hundreds of casualties.

A priest prays by the ruins of a destroyed shopping center at Kyiv March 21, 2022. AP/Efrem Lukatsky

ATHENS — Russia’s bombing of a shopping mall in an upscale residential district of Kiev last night that killed at least eight people laid bare a growing divide between the Russian and Ukraine versions of just exactly what is going on as war between the nations drags on into its fourth week. 

Was the attack indiscriminate, as the Ukrainians say, or highly targeted, as the Russians would have the world believe? It was clearly devastating by design, with Kyiv Independent reporting that it flattened one part of the Retroville mall, in the city’s Podilskyi district, turning the parking lot into a sea of flames. 

The explosion was about six miles from the city center and the blast broke windows of nearby apartments, shook buildings elsewhere in the capital, and blew debris of the shopping complex a long distance away in every direction. 

The attack happened around 11 p.m., when the mall was closed: Obviously had it occurred at 11 a.m. there could have been hundreds of casualties. According to Agence France-Presse, a Russian defense ministry spokesman, Igor Konashenkov, said a square near the mall was used to store and reload ammunition for multiple-launch missile systems.

If that is correct, it might explain Russia’s choice of long-range, precision-guided weaponry to take them out — innocent after-hours passersby and property be damned. It’s clear that destruction on this scale would not have come from the kind of Grad truck-mounted rocket launchers that have been battering Mariupol, at the other end of the country. 

That city’s refusal to bow down to a Russian surrender order may be tested in the days to come. There are still 300,000 people trapped in the strategic Black Sea port city where as of Monday, according to an Azov regiment captain, Svyatoslav Palamar, bombs were falling every 10 minutes. 

The situation may get worse. The Times of London reported on Monday that Russia says it has unloaded a military supply ship at Ukraine’s Berdyansk port for the first time, “raising the prospect of an intensified assault on Mariupol with fresh armor and supplies.” 

Berdyansk, a city with a population of more than 100,000 people, is situated on the northern coast of the Sea of Azov, 50 miles southwest of Mariupol. It was captured by Russian forces on February 27. 

The vessel is said to be a Russian-made amphibious transport ship known in NATO lingo as an Alligator-class landing ship. In Odessa, local authorities accused Russian forces of carrying out a strike on residential buildings early on Monday, which would be the first such attack on that major Black Sea port city.

In Kherson, Russian troops appear to have opened fire on a peaceful demonstration, with CCTV footage showing protesters fleeing the city’s Liberty Square as military vehicles advance, Britain’s Sky News reported. Rallies against the Russian occupiers are held on the square every day, Ukrinform reports.  

Elsewhere, more civilians are under attack: The Ukrainian public broadcasting company Suspilne reported that Russian troops opened fire on a group of civilian vehicles traveling in a humanitarian corridor in the village of Malynivka in Zaporizhia Oblast. Troops are said to have fired automatic weapons at two cars; three women, two children and a man were injured in the shooting.

On the diplomatic front, Reuters reported that Russia’s foreign ministry said on Monday it had summoned the U.S. ambassador, John Sullivan, to tell him that President Biden’s calling Vladimir Putin a war criminal had pushed bilateral ties to the brink of collapse. 

Mr. Biden used the designation for Mr. Putin while he was speaking to a group of journalists on March 16. “Such statements by the American president, which are not worthy of a high-ranking statesman, have put Russian-American relations on the verge of rupture,” the Russian ministry said.

In yet another sign of Russia’s growing isolation, RIA Novosti reported late on Monday that Moscow has suspended negotiations with Japan on a peace treaty related to a longstanding dispute over the Kuril Islands due to Tokyo’s imposition of sanctions on Russia over the Ukraine war. Russia’s foreign ministry cited the impossibility of discussing the signing of a fundamental document on bilateral relations with a state that takes openly unfriendly positions “and seeks to harm the interests of our country,” the Russian state-owned news agency reported.

The European Union is mulling imposing an embargo on Russian oil and coal — but not gas — as part of its next round of sanctions. The impact on Moscow may be limited, according to Euronews. 

Lithuania’s foreign minister, Gabrielius Landsbergis, told reporters in Brussels that “Europe cannot give an impression of fatigue when the war in Ukraine hasn’t ended. We cannot get tired of imposing sanctions, we cannot get tired of offering assistance to Ukraine.”

The New York Sun

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