Russian missiles kill at least 16 people in the latest strike on southern Ukraine’s Odesa

In this photo provided by the Ukrainian Emergency Service, emergency services help their comrade injured during a Russian attack in Odesa, Ukraine, Friday, March 15, 2024. A Russian missile strike on Odesa in southern Ukraine on Friday killed at least 14 people and injured 46 others, local officials said. (Ukrainian Emergency Service via AP)

In this photo provided by the Ukrainian Emergency Service, emergency services help their comrade injured during a Russian attack in Odesa, Ukraine, Friday, March 15, 2024. A Russian missile strike on Odesa in southern Ukraine on Friday killed at least 14 people and injured 46 others, local officials said. (Ukrainian Emergency Service via AP)

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — A Russian ballistic missile attack blasted homes in the southern Ukrainian city of Odesa on Friday, followed by a second missile that targeted first responders who arrived at the scene, officials said. At least 16 people were killed.

The attack occurred as Russians began voting in a presidential election that is all but certain to extend Vladimir Putin’s rule by another six years after he crushed dissent, and as the war in Ukraine stretches into its third year.

The dead included a paramedic and an emergency service worker. At least 53 other people were wounded by the Iskander-M missiles, officials said.

At least 10 houses in Odesa and some emergency service equipment were damaged in the strike, which started a blaze, according to emergency officials and regional Gov. Oleh Kiper.

The tactic of firing a second missile at the same location, aiming to hit rescuers, is known in military terms as a double tap. Such strikes often hit civilians.

Kiper announced that a day of mourning in Odesa would be held on Saturday — the second such observance in less than two weeks.

On March 2, a Russian drone struck a multistory building, killing 12 people, including five children.

Moscow has repeatedly claimed that its forces do not target civilian areas, despite substantial evidence to the contrary.

Since last summer, Russia has intensified its attacks on Odesa, a southern port city with a population of around 1 million.

The attacks have primarily targeted port infrastructure, aiming to disrupt the export of goods after Ukraine managed to restore maritime navigation with a series of successful operations in the Black Sea.

Moscow officials have also claimed they are aiming at facilities where Ukrainian sea drones are stored for attacks on Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.

The Odesa region’s ports were key to last year’s international agreement that let Ukraine and Russia ship their grain to the rest of the world.

Odesa residents largely speak Russian, and the city’s past is intertwined with some of Russia’s most revered figures, including Catherine the Great, author Leo Tolstoy and poet Anna Akhmatova.

Its Orthodox cathedral belongs to Moscow’s patriarchate and — at least until the Kremlin illegally annexed the nearby Crimean Peninsula in 2014 — its beaches were beloved by Russian tourists.

Meanwhile, in the Russian border region of Belgorod, regional Gov. Vyacheslav Gladkov said a member of the regional territorial defense forces was killed and two people were injured in Ukrainian shelling Friday.

Overnight in Ukraine, two people were also killed and three wounded in the central Vinnytsia region after Russia struck a building with a drone, according to regional Gov. Serhii Borzov.

The Ukrainian air force said it shot down all 27 Shahed drones that Russia launched over the Kharkiv, Vinnytsia, Kirovohrad, Mykolaiv, Khmelnytskyi and Kyiv regions.

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