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Mother and baby among eight killed in Moscow’s latest strike on civilian target.

This was not a normal Orthodox Easter Sunday in Odesa’s city garden, a leafy park set around a bandstand in the usually vibrant port on Ukraine’s Black Sea coast.

People strolled and gathered on benches in the spring sunshine, as cats lounged beneath blossoming trees and on the sand-dusted pavement, but most of the talk was of a deadly missile strike that shattered the city’s sense of calm a day earlier.

“We were in a shop when we heard the boom, and on our way home we saw lots of smoke, ambulances, police and scared people,” says Viktoria Kolesnichenko, who is sitting in the park with daughter Elizabeth Vykhrystiuk.

“The missile hit a building about five minutes’ drive from our apartment,” says Vykhrystiuk.

“There is a lot of fear after this attack. We realised we are living in a real war, in the 21st century, and it is so strange. And they killed a three-month-old baby – it’s just so horrible,” her mother adds, holding back tears.

Infant daughter

Valeria Glodan (27) and her infant daughter Kira were among eight people killed when a Russian missile hit an apartment block in Odesa on Saturday. Eighteen people were also injured in a salvo that Ukraine said was fired by Russian jets over the Caspian Sea, and which also struck a military facility in the city.

“She never even got to see life,” Odesa mayor Gennadiy Trukhanov said of the three-month-old girl, standing before a high-rise building that had been gouged open.

“You beasts will burn in hell,” he said on social media to those who fired the missile.

Odesa, a port of one million people that is of strategic importance to Ukraine’s defence and economy, has suffered little damage in Russia’s two-month invasion compared to other major Ukrainian cities such as Kharkiv and Mariupol, another port 500km to the east.

“People who left Odesa when the war began were starting to come home, because it seemed calm here and they can’t live somewhere else forever on their savings,” says Ivan, a taxi driver at Odesa’s train station.

‘Missiles exploding’

“Everyone even started to ignore the air-raid sirens. But what happened yesterday really shook people up – the booms of the missiles exploding and the sound of our air-defence systems blowing up other rockets overhead. Now there are rumours here that Russia is planning to do to Odesa what it has already done to Mariupol.”

Mariupol has been reduced largely to ruins after intense Russian bombing and a two-month siege in which Ukrainian officials say more than 20,000 residents may have died. They also accuse Moscow’s forces of committing war crimes in the devastated city, and say recent satellite images show that Russian troops are burying bodies in mass graves nearby.

Russia denies the allegations, insists it is only striking military targets, and accuses Ukraine’s troops of holding civilians hostage and using them as “human shields” in the sprawling Azovstal metalworks that is their last redoubt in Mariupol.

A banner in Odesa – the Ukrainian Black Sea city that residents affectionately call ‘Odesa Mama’ – warns Russia: ‘If someone lays a finger on Mama, they’ll be buried by Mama!’ Photograph: Daniel McLaughlin

A banner in Odesa – the Ukrainian Black Sea city that residents affectionately call ‘Odesa Mama’ – warns Russia: ‘If someone lays a finger on Mama, they’ll be buried by Mama!’ Photograph: Daniel McLaughlin

“We will identify all those responsible for this strike…Everyone who gives these orders. Everyone who fulfils these orders. No one will be able to hide. No matter how long it takes us, all these bastards will be held responsible for every death they caused,” Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy said of the attack on Odesa.

“What they have already done is definitely sufficient grounds for the world to finally recognise the Russian state as a sponsor of terrorism and the Russian army as a terrorist organisation,” he added.

Mr Zelenskiy said he planned to meet US secretary of state Antony Blinken and US defence secretary Lloyd Austin in Kyiv on Sunday, in what would be the first visit to Ukraine’s capital by senior US officials since Russia launched its all-out invasion.

Rescuers carrying a woman out of a damaged building in Odesa, on Saturday. Photograph: State Emergency Service of Ukraine/AFP via Getty Images

Rescuers carrying a woman out of a damaged building in Odesa, on Saturday. Photograph: State Emergency Service of Ukraine/AFP via Getty Images

‘Unwavering belief’

In an Easter Sunday address from Kyiv’s 1,000-year-old Saint Sophia cathedral, Mr Zelenskiy said: “This great holiday gives us hope and an unwavering belief that light will defeat darkness, good will defeat evil, life will defeat death, and therefore Ukraine is certain to triumph.”

In Odesa’s city garden, Ms Kolesnichenko is just as defiant.

“We are proud of our soldiers, of our president and of our Ukraine,” she says. “This is our park and this is our city – and I am proud of them too.”

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