A historic cathedral, architectural monuments and residential buildings in Odesa were severely damaged early on Sunday as Russian forces continued to pound the Ukrainian city with missiles.
“Another night attack by the non-humans,” Odesa’s governor Oleg Kiper said, adding that one person had been killed and 19 injured, including three children.
Kyiv and its allies say the air strike campaign aims to blockade maritime grain exports from the Black Sea port city to global markets and destroy Ukrainian culture.
“Missiles against peaceful cities, against residential buildings, a cathedral . . . There can be no excuse for Russian evil,” Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy posted on Twitter.
Ukraine’s air force said it had intercepted nine of the 19 missiles aimed at the once cosmopolitan, multi-ethnic city of 1mn people.
Photos and videos posted by Ukrainian officials showed the roof of the Transfiguration Cathedral partially collapsed, fires burning inside and its altar in ruins, though its dome and clock tower remained standing.
Ukrainian television showed local residents rushing to rescue icons and other religious artefacts from the building, which is part of a following linked to the Russian Orthodox church.
Along with other southern port cities, Odesa has been relentlessly bombarded by strikes for almost a week after Russia withdrew from a UN-brokered deal agreed last summer that had allowed grain exports during its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Previous attacks have damaged regional ports and grain silos, but Sunday’s strikes severely affected Odesa’s historic town, which was designated a world heritage site by Unesco in January.
“Continuous Russian missile terror on Unesco-protected Odesa constitutes yet another war crime by the Kremlin, demolishing also the main Orthodox Cathedral — a world heritage site,” Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, wrote on Twitter.
“Russia has already damaged hundreds of cultural sites, trying to destroy Ukraine,” he added.
The Transfiguration Cathedral was originally built in the early 1800s to be the main church in southern areas of Ukraine conquered by the Russian empire and designated “New Russia” — a term Russian president Vladimir Putin has used to justify his invasion to reconquer what he claims are historically Russian lands.
The original cathedral was demolished in 1936 under Soviet leader Josef Stalin but was rebuilt between 1999 and 2003 under independent Ukraine.
“There will definitely be a retaliation to Russian terrorists for Odesa,” said Zelenskyy, a day after pledging that his army’s counteroffensive launched last month would soon “gain pace”.
Ukrainian forces have so far made small gains in liberating Russian-occupied eastern and southern regions representing about 18 per cent of state territory.
Russia’s defence minister denied one of its missiles or debris hit the Transfiguration Cathedral, insisting that the church had been hit by “the fall of a Ukrainian anti-aircraft guided missile”.