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Russian Missile Kills Churchgoers, Children, Injures 129 in Northern Ukraine


The aftermath of a Russian missile strike in Chernihiv, Ukraine, Aug. 19, 2023.
The aftermath of a Russian missile strike in Chernihiv, Ukraine, Aug. 19, 2023.

A Russian missile attack Saturday killed at least seven people, including a 6-year-old child, and injured 129 near the central square in the historic Ukrainian city of Chernihiv, about 145 kilometers (90 miles) north of Kyiv.

The missile struck while people were heading to church to celebrate a religious holiday. Twelve of the wounded were children and 10 were police officers, according to the interior ministry.

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy posted a video on the Telegram messaging app showing harrowing images from the aftermath of the attack, including a body in a car surrounded by debris.

"A Russian missile hit right in the center of the city, in our Chernihiv. A square, the polytechnic university, a theater," Zelenskyy wrote while visiting Sweden to discuss a new military aid package of more than $313 million from the Nordic country.

During his first visit to Stockholm since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Zelenskyy asked the Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson for Swedish-made Gripen fighter jets to help Ukraine boost its air defenses.

In June, the Swedish government said it would give Ukrainian pilots the opportunity to test its Saab-made jet, but it also has said it needs all its planes to defend Swedish territory.

Zelenskyy said Saturday that Ukrainian pilots have begun training on the planes.

This image contains sensitive content which some people may find offensive or disturbing.
A man cleans at the site of a Russian missile strike in Chernihiv, Ukraine, Aug. 19, 2023.
A man cleans at the site of a Russian missile strike in Chernihiv, Ukraine, Aug. 19, 2023.
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A man cleans at the site of a Russian missile strike in Chernihiv, Ukraine, Aug. 19, 2023.

During a joint news briefing, Kristersson did not comment on the Gripens, but -condemned the Russian missile attack on Chernihiv.

Sweden changed its long-established policy of military nonalignment to back Ukraine with weapons and other support in the war against Russia. Sweden has applied for NATO membership and is in the process of joining the alliance.

Ukrainian pilots also have begun training on U.S. F-16 fighter jets, a process that would take at least six months and possibly longer, Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said Saturday, two days after a U.S. official said F-16s would be transferred to Ukraine once its pilots were trained.

Reznikov said in a TV interview that six months of training was considered the minimum for pilots, but it was not yet clear how long it would take to train engineers and mechanics.

Ukraine says these modern U.S. fighter jets are necessary so it can counter the air superiority of the Russian invaders.

"Therefore, to build reasonable expectations, set a minimum of six months in your mind, but do not be disappointed if it is longer," Reznikov said.

Washington has approved sending F-16s to Ukraine from Denmark and the Netherlands to defend against Russia as soon as pilot training is completed, a U.S. official said.

Reznikov did not disclose where and when the training was taking place.

The training included technical language training because most of the technical manuals are written in English.

The fighter jets are not likely to affect the trajectory of the war anytime soon, according to U.S. officials.

U.S. Air Force General James Hecker told reporters Friday at a virtual meeting of the Defense Writers Group that there are no prospects currently for either Ukraine or Russia to gain the upper hand in the air.

"I don't think anyone's going to get air superiority as long as the number of surface-to-air missiles stays high enough,” Hecker said, responding to a question from VOA.

Hecker, commander of U.S. Air Forces Europe and U.S. Air Forces Africa, did note that if Ukraine runs out of its integrated air and missile defense ammunition, "then it becomes a problem."

"Both Ukraine and Russia have very good integrated air and missile defense systems,” he said. "That alone is what has prevented [Russia or Ukraine] from getting air superiority."

In a post on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, Dutch Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra said: "We welcome Washington's decision to pave the way for sending F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine.”

Camp David

At a trilateral summit Friday, the leaders of the United States, Japan and South Korea pledged to "stand with Ukraine against Russia’s unprovoked and brutal war of aggression.”

Meeting at the U.S. presidential retreat of Camp David, President Joe Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said their countries would continue to help Ukraine.

They also pledged to continue sanctions on Russia and to accelerate their countries’ "reduction of dependency on Russian energy."

Kishida said “the free and open international order based on the rule of law is in crisis,” and pointed the blame at Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the continuing North Korean nuclear and missile threats, and a “unilateral attempt to change the status quo by force in the East and South China Seas” — referring lastly to China.

VOA U.N. Correspondent Margaret Besheer and VOA National Security Correspondent Jeff Seldin contributed to this story. Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.

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