Blast rips new district to shreds as war reaches into Kyiv
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Blast rips new district to shreds as war reaches into Kyiv

The Retroville, a temple to retail therapy, was the pride of the locals.
The Retroville, a temple to retail therapy, was the pride of the locals.

KYIV - The six corpses lie in a row beneath an awning plastered with garish advertising company logos.

Their bare feet stick out from under a black plastic groundsheet.

Two of the bodies are dirty with blood-caked earth, horribly twisted and half naked, a sign the victims were caught in their sleep.

On Sunday night, the brand new Retroville shopping centre on the north-western outskirts of the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, was hit by a Russian air strike that destroyed everything in for metres (yard) around.

At least eight people died, according to the first official toll.

The attack, most probably a missile strike, ripped through the southern section of the vast mall at about 10:45 pm, shaking the entire city.

"I was just minding my business at home," local resident Vladimir says. "My apartment shook with the force of the blast. I thought the building would collapse," he recalls, visible shaken.

The Russians "were probably targeting the power station a few hundred metres away", he surmises, pointing to a large white cooling tower in the distance.

- Swimming pool, multiplex cinema -

Opened in early 2020, just before Covid struck, the Retroville was the pride of the locals -- a temple to retail therapy boasting 250 shops, Western brands, a multiplex cinema, 3,000 parking places.

This area of the suburb of Vinogradar used to be all market gardens and vineyards. Now ultra-modern grey tower blocks have sprung up everywhere. Some are still vacant. Others aren't even finished yet.

Around the shattered shopping centre, hardly a single window has survived the blast. Shards of broken glass litter the paving stones at the foot of the 20-storey tenement blocks.

The car park on the south side of the shopping centre is a wreck of mangled cars, twisted metal and treacherously sharp debris.

The Sportlife fitness centre and swimming pool, built over the car park, have been reduced to a tangle of steel and filthy puddles. Lumps of polystyrene insulation, deformed by the blaze, float in the murky water. The acrid smell of burning catches your throat. Mud-covered debris sticks to your shoes.

A handful of firefighters and soldiers trawls through the smoking wreckage of a 10-story building wreckage searching for more victims.

"That was where the shopping centre offices were," explains a local, nodding towards the concrete shell of the edifice. "Luckily there was no one in there at the time."

- 'Prayers and insults' -

Everyone surveying the desolate scene concurs that the attack on the Retroville is the most powerful to have hit Kyiv since the start of the Russian invasion.

Inside the devastated shopping mall, the once shiny floor is flooded with water from burst pipes and the airy ceiling is hanging in chunks from its frame.

From the bowels of the complex, a security alarm is still ringing inside a Western DIY store, where the shelves of power drills and light fittings seem, bizarrely, to be still waiting for customers.

An Orthodox priest in a kakhi-coloured cassock tries to pick his way through the rubble, muttering prayers and insults to the "Russian terrorists".

A soldier with a black scarf over his face approaches. "There are bits of body over there," he whispers to the priest.

Constantin, 22, was there when the explosion happened.

"It blew everything sky high. I don't know if it was a missile or a massive rocket. It landed right on the gym club."

He averts his piercing blue gaze, shutting out questions about the number of victims, who they were. They were his neighbours.

The six bodies stretched out under the plastic groundsheet are all dressed in military fatigues. They could have been soldiers catching up on some sleep.

The remains of a huge engine block nearby, surrounded by serrated sheets of tank chassis, lends credence to that theory.

As advancing Russian forces tighten their grip on Kyiv, it has become almost commonplace to come across camouflage vehicles, military hardware and anti-aircraft guns hidden in underground public car parks.

Locals acknowledge the Ukrainian army is using their area as a base. Russian troops are just a few kilometres (miles) away in Irpin, which they have pummelled out of recognition, and residents awake this Monday morning to the boom of cannon fire.

Then the wail of sirens ripples out across the capital.

"It's the biggest bomb to have hit the city until now," says Dima Stepanienko. The 30-year-old says he was "flung to the foot of the bed" by the blast that destroyed the Retroville.

Does this mean war has reached Kyiv?

"I'm scared," he whispers, looking away.

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