KYIV – By midmorning, there was little left outside the shopping mall beyond rubble, blood stains and broken glass.
On one side, the building had been reduced to a pile of debris. On the other lay remnants left by several victims – including their clothes. Used surgical gloves were scattered on the ground nearby.
The missile that struck the Retroville shopping complex late Sunday night killed at least eight people, officials here said, the latest violent attack on the capital in the past week that have left residents fearing what might come next. The devastation at the mall on Monday was some of the worst seen in Kyiv since the war began, and concern is mounting that Russia’s frustration over its failure to seize key territory could prompt its forces to escalate its attacks.
Civilians milled about outside the next morning to survey the damage, well aware that the unpredictable nature of the assault meant those who died here just hours before could just as easily have been them.
“The whole city is dangerous,” said Vitaliya Dubovetska, who lives on the 16th floor of an apartment building nearby and saw the strike from her window. “Any place could be safe or unsafe. It’s like a lottery.” Photos on her phone showed an orange fireball erupting in the distance. She moved closer to the strike site on Monday to repair the windows at a relative’s apartment across the street and then visited what remained of the mall.
[War stalls as heavy casualties and lack of progress take a toll on Russian forces]
Dubovetska and others said the attack occurred around 11 p.m. on Sunday, causing an enormous boom that rippled through the area. Due to a citywide curfew from 8 p.m. each night, journalists could not reach the scene until morning. It was not immediately clear who was killed in the attack, which took place at a time when most civilians would not be allowed outside their homes or shelters.
Just inside the damaged mall sat a grocery store that one former employee said was now being used for storage. Shards of glass and a large puddle of water sat in the hall. The ceiling was also damaged.
Troops guarding the door initially allowed a group of journalists to enter but then forced the press corps to leave. Vladyslov Kosiak, 21, stood across the street with two friends. They, too, had heard the strike the night before from a fourth-floor balcony nearby, then came to see the damage after the curfew lifted Monday morning.
“There was a very loud bang and the building started to shake like an earthquake,” Kosiak said. Throughout the morning, the heavy report of outgoing artillery could be heard.
A territorial defense volunteer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk freely, said the strike was the result of a hypersonic missile – but did not offer any evidence. “Maybe it was to show the Ukrainian military what they can do, that they can damage anything,” he said.
Booms echoed continuously throughout the area Monday morning. When asked if one loud blast was incoming or outgoing, the territorial defense member shrugged. “I don’t know, but it’s not here,” he said, and laughed as he gestured to his immediate surroundings. “So it’s okay.”
The attack Sunday came as Russia insisted Ukraine surrender the besieged city of Mariupol. Weeks of attacks on the port have created a deadly humanitarian disaster. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky refused. Civilians in Kyiv said Monday that his defiance left them feeling proud despite their horror over the events unfolding within their borders.
Most communication to Mariupol has been cut off since the beginning of March, but some civilians have managed to flee. They have brought with them stories of hellish conditions, including mass graves and bodies left in the streets. Two Associated Press journalists stayed in the city for weeks, documenting the horrors firsthand and helping the world understand the gravity of Russia’s attack, which has allegedly included strikes on a theater, an art school and a maternity hospital.
“If he would agree to give them Mariupol, tomorrow it would be Kharkiv. It’s better not to negotiate,” said Natalia, 44, who worked at the grocery store inside the mall before the war started. She spoke on the condition that only her first name be used due to security concerns. She, too, visited the site Monday to assess the damage.
“From the beginning,” she said, “Russian soldiers thought we in Kyiv would meet them with a flower in our hands. But if they come, we will each give them two,” a reference to the tradition of leaving flowers by a grave.
Her friend Oksana works in a food store next to where the strike occurred. She said the attacks on civilian infrastructure have only bolstered the civilians’ resolve to stand their ground. “We will never let the Russian army come to Kyiv,” she said. She had decided to stay in the capital out of a sense of patriotic duty. “It’s better to die in an apartment here than to try to live somewhere else.”
Still, residents worry the growing assault could make living here unbearable. Already, they are fearful and anxious – but keep pressing forward in hopes the situation will resolve.
“Every day I wake up to have breakfast and don’t know if I will be alive for dinner,” Natalia said.
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The Washington Post’s Jennifer Hassan in London and Jonathan Edwards in Washington contributed to this report.