Russia admits striking Kyiv during UN chief's visit

Joshua Melvin and Emmanuel Peuchot, Agence France-Presse

Posted at Apr 29 2022 08:06 PM

A woman walks past a building damaged in the previous day's shelling of a residential building in Kyiv, Ukraine, on April 29, 2022. Sergey Dolzhenko, EPA-EFE
A woman walks past a building damaged in the previous day's shelling of a residential building in Kyiv, Ukraine, on April 29, 2022. Sergey Dolzhenko, EPA-EFE

Russia confirmed Friday it carried out an air strike on Kyiv during a visit by the UN chief, the first such attack on the Ukrainian capital in nearly two weeks and one that killed a journalist.

Vera Gyrych, a producer for the US-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, died when a Russian missile slammed into the house where she lived in Kyiv, the media group said of the strike.

Russia's defence ministry said it had deployed "high-precision, long-range air-based weapons" that it added "have destroyed the production buildings of the Artyom missile and space enterprise in Kyiv".

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky said the strikes, which immediately followed his talks with Guterres, were an attempt by Russia "to humiliate the UN and everything that the organisation represents".

Earlier that day, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had toured Bucha and other suburbs of Kyiv where Moscow is alleged to have committed war crimes. Russia denies killing civilians.

Germany slammed the "inhumane" attack that showed Russian President Vladimir Putin has "no respect whatsoever for international law".

In a residential part of Kyiv, AFP correspondents saw one building in flames and black smoke pouring into the air after the Russian strikes.

"I heard the sound of two rockets and two explosions. It was a sound similar to a flying plane, and then two explosions with an interval of three to four seconds," Oleksandr Stroganov, 34, told AFP.

Mayor Vitali Klitschko said there had been "two hits in the Shevchenkovsky district", with one hitting "the lower floors of a residential building". 

- More than 8,000 alleged war crimes -

"It is a war zone, but it is shocking that it happened close to us," said Saviano Abreu, spokesman for the UN's humanitarian office who was travelling with Guterres, adding that the delegation was safe.

Guterres, who arrived in Kyiv after talks in Moscow with Putin, had called war "evil" after visiting Bucha and demanded the Kremlin cooperate with an International Criminal Court investigation into the accusations.

Ukrainian prosecutors said they have pinpointed more than 8,000 alleged war crime cases and have opened investigations into 10 Russian soldiers for suspected atrocities in Bucha, where dozens of bodies in civilian clothes were found following Moscow's retreat.

Those cases involve "killing civilians, bombing of civilian infrastructure, torture" and "sexual crimes" reported during Russia's occupation of various parts of Ukraine, prosecutor general Iryna Venediktova told a German broadcaster. 

In Washington, President Joe Biden on Thursday urged US lawmakers to approve a huge $33 billion aid package and proposed new laws to allow using luxury assets stripped from Russian oligarchs to compensate Ukraine for damage inflicted since Moscow invaded on February 24.

"The cost of this fight is not cheap. But caving to aggression is going to be more costly if we allow it to happen," said Biden, whose announcement was hailed by Zelensky as an "important step".

Three months into an invasion that failed in its short-term aim of capturing Kyiv, Russia is now intensifying operations in the breakaway eastern Donbas region and tightening its noose around the devastated strategic southern port city of Mariupol.

Ukrainian authorities said they planned to evacuate civilians Friday from the besieged Azovstal steel plant, the last holdout in Mariupol where hundreds of people are sheltering with Ukrainian troops.

- Mariupol shelling -

In an early morning statement on Telegram, defenders of the factory said shelling had struck a field hospital inside the plant, causing it to collapse.

"Among the already wounded servicemen are dead, newly wounded and injured," the statement said without providing specific casualty numbers.

In Washington, Biden pushed back against increasingly heated claims by Russian officials that Moscow is fighting the entire West, rather than only Ukraine.

"We're not attacking Russia. We are helping Ukraine defend itself against Russian aggression," Biden said.

The $33 billion package sought by Biden is a significant increase on previous requests.

The bulk -- $20 billion -- would be weapons and other security assistance, while $8.5 billion will be economic aid.

A senior US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the spending package would keep Ukraine's government and military going through the start of October.

While Biden said the United States was sending 10 anti-tank weapons for every Russian tank, Ukraine's air force commander said his country's anti-aircraft systems were unable to strike higher altitude bombers.

- British exercises -

"We need medium and long-range anti-aircraft systems" and "modern fighters", said Mykola Olechchuk.

Britain meanwhile said it was deploying about 8,000 troops for exercises across eastern Europe in a show of Western allies' resolve against Russian aggression.

With the war claiming thousands of lives, Kyiv has admitted Russian forces have captured a string of villages in the Donbas region.

The first phase of Russia's invasion failed to reach Kyiv or overthrow the government after encountering stiff resistance reinforced with Western weapons.

The Russian campaign has since refocused on seizing the east and south of the country while using long-range missiles against west and central Ukraine.

Nearly 5.4 million Ukrainians have fled their country since the invasion and more than 7.7 million others are displaced internally, the UN estimates, as the IOM appealed for $514 million to help.

"We're left with only one hope: to return home," said pensioner Galina Bodnya in the southern city of Zaporizhzhia.