“We heard that, it’s absurd. When you live here, I wonder how you can believe such things which are pure invention”, reacts Polina Pushintseva who lives on the fourth floor of a building located opposite the center “Amstor”, when asked about the Moscow version.
“Next to ‘Amstor’ in this neighborhood there is absolutely no military infrastructure, nothing at all. And behind the shopping center there is a soccer field,” said another resident of the neighborhood, Antonina Choumilova.
The Russian army claimed to have struck a warehouse of Western weapons located in a nearby construction machinery factory, the fire of which would have spread to the shopping center, which it said was disused.
– No trace of military stock –
A ten-minute walk from Amstor is a factory that manufactures construction machinery. It was visited on Tuesday by AFP journalists, who found that one of its buildings is destroyed, while the others remain intact. There was no military equipment there.
Twenty-four hours after the attack, the inhabitants of the district remain in shock.
“I was in the kitchen and I heard a racket, the windows were shattered,” says Polina Pushintseva.
The building, in this city in the center of the country more than 200 km from the front line, was largely reduced to a heap of charred debris and sections of wall blackened by smoke. A few green letters from its sign remained atop the roof with bits of burnt plastic dangling.
The missile strike ignited and destroyed the mall at a time when it was “busy”, according to Ukrainian authorities.
“Everything burned, really everything, like a spark. I heard people screaming, it was horrible. I knew people who work in this center, but they are no longer there”, says Ms. Pushintseva, still upset tuesday.
“I can’t find the words to explain this,” she said. “They are just killing people who have done nothing wrong.”
– “Two explosions spaced one second apart” –
Four giant cranes are installed on the site to lift pieces of metal structures. The parking lot is occupied by fire trucks, rescue vehicles, a few Ukrainian army trucks.
Clearing operations were halted for more than an hour on Tuesday when shelling sirens sounded.
Antonina Choumilova observes what is happening from her beauty salon, whose glass door has been shattered, in a street located just opposite the shopping center.
Shortly before the Russian strike, she says, “there was the air warning siren, and ten minutes later, two explosions spaced one second apart”.
At the time of the explosions, she had a client. They rushed inside the living room and waited a bit before stepping out into the street, she said.
“After a quarter of an hour, everything had already burned down and there were a lot of people, it’s horrible,” she says, referring to the victims.
In a fire at very high temperatures like this, fire commander Ivan Melekhovets told AFP, “you have no chance of surviving”.
“The hardest thing is to see the corpses, adults, children”, adds this firefighter who took part in the rescue operations on Monday. “Now we are working to find people who are missing, between 50 and 60,” he said.