At least seven people died including a six-year-old girl and nearly 130 others injured after a Russian missile strike hit a central square in the northern Ukrainian city of Chernihiv, Ukrainian officials said.
Saturday’s strike – in a city close to the Russian border and far from the frontlines – hit a university and a theater, where an event involving drone manufacturers was taking place.
The girl killed died from her injuries in hospital, Ukraine’s Minister of Internal Affairs Ihor Klymenko said.
“Her mother is in grave condition. The police officers provided first aid to the girl. Unfortunately, doctors were unable to save her upon arrival at the hospital due to a heavy blood loss,” he added.
Klymenko said the strike happened while people were leaving church with “baskets of blessed apples.” Saturday is a major holiday in the Orthodox calendar: for The Feast of the Transfiguration, apples and honey are consecrated in churches.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the attack turned “an ordinary Saturday… into a day of pain and loss.”
“A Russian missile hit right in the center of the city, in our Chernihiv. A square, the polytechnic university, a theater.”
Oleksandr Lomako, acting mayor of Chernihiv city, told national TV: “There is a park right behind the drama theater, many children and their parents usually spend time there. There are numerous restaurants with outdoor terraces located nearby as well. It all happened in the middle of the day when obviously there are many people in the city center.
“This crime cannot be interpreted except as a war crime against civilians.”
Klymenko is calling for an investigation into a drone event that was underway in the theater during the attack. Drones have been used by both sides throughout the conflict.
A co-organizer of the event, Maria Berlinska, said it was officially approved by the local military-civilian administration and that the location was provided by authorities. The venue was only disclosed hours before the event for security reasons.
Berlinska described it as “a closed meeting of engineers, military and volunteers on military tech for the frontline.”
Prior to the outbreak of war, Chernihiv was a vibrant city of 300,000 people. Now, many parts of it have turned to wasteland amid repeated Russian bombardment.
The city came under siege from Russian forces at the start of the invasion in March 2022, and was cut off from electricity and running water. Russia troops began withdrawing from the region later that month, although shelling of Chernihiv continued.
Following the siege, the city’s mayor described Chernihiv as about 70% destroyed.
Putin meets generals
The attack comes as Russian President Vladimir Putin visited generals overseeing the Ukraine offensive in Rostov-on-Don in southern Russia on Saturday, according to the Kremlin.
Putin spoke with the “Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, Valery Gerasimov, commanders of sectors, and other senior officers of the group,” according to the Kremlin.
Rostov-on-Don, which is close to the border with Ukraine, was a focal point of the Wagner private military group’s short-lived rebellion in June.
Meanwhile, Zelensky is in Sweden where he is meeting with Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, King Carl XVI, Queen Silvia, and other parliamentary officials.
In a joint press conference between Zelensky and Kristersson on Saturday afternoon, the Ukrainian leader said they are discussing “the next steps” for Ukraine to obtain Gripen fighter jets from Sweden.
“Today we discussed Gripen aircraft, the pride of Sweden. I am confident that Gripen aircraft can make our freedom much more secure,” Zelensky told journalists.
CNN’s Benjamin Brown contributed reporting.