The 15 minutes that saved Andrii from the hell of Kremenchuk | International


Sometimes the smallest decision can change a whole life. Or end it. Andrii Nesterenko knows this well. This 38-year-old businessman was startled on Monday afternoon when he heard a tremendous explosion. A missile had just hit the shopping center that he has 600 meters from his house, in the Ukrainian city of Kremenchuk. The list of fatalities reached twenty on Tuesday, although it is very likely to increase as the rescue efforts progress. Against such a horrific backdrop, Nesterenko can’t help but think he was lucky. “In 15 minutes I had to go pick up a Puma backpack that my wife had bought on-line”, he assures in front of what little remains of the Rozetka sign, a kind of Ukrainian Amazon.

At the other end of the Ferris wheel is his neighbor Yurii, an employee at one of the stores in the mall, who was on the late shift that damn day. His family has been calling him on his mobile ever since with no answer. Everyone fears the worst. He is one of 36 names marked on the missing list.

Talking these days with the inhabitants of Kremenchuk — a city far from the war front, which adds more horror to the horror — is an exercise in continuous recall of the steps taken on Monday afternoon: what they were doing and with whom at the time they Vladimir Putin’s army changed their lives; what family or friends were at that moment shopping in Amstor, the shopping center that no one will ever forget here.

Andrii Nesterenko, a 38-year-old businessman, who was accidentally saved from the missile that fell on the shopping center.

Andrii himself has more names for both the group of lucky people and the group of victims. On one side, Serhii, an old friend with whom he used to play console when they were both in their twenties, who is also on the missing list. On the other, his colleague Rostislav, who had gone to the mall that same afternoon, but left in time to tell the story.

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The inhabitants of Kremenchuk have approached the site of the catastrophe throughout Tuesday, still impregnated with a strong smell of burning plastic. They carry flowers, toys, candles… Everything that would serve to pay tribute to the fallen and point out Putin’s troops as butchers without feelings.

The President of France, Emmanuel Macron, has described what happened in Kremenchuk as a “war crime”. The British Boris Johnson has spoken of “complete barbarism”, which should serve to convince the undecided of the urgency of protecting Ukraine. And the G-7 leaders issued a statement condemning this “abominable war crime.” Meanwhile, Russia justified the attack on the grounds that it was directed against an arms factory. According to the Kremlin version, the fire would have spread to the shopping center, which, according to its version, was in disuse. Something obviously false. “Only crazy terrorists are capable of launching missiles at civilian targets. Russia must be considered as a state that promotes terrorism. The world can – and therefore must – stop Russian terror,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky asked in a message on Telegram.

But it doesn’t look like international condemnation will have much of an effect on Putin’s plans. The day after the Kremenchuk massacre, six Russian missiles hit the nearby province of Dnipro, according to the provincial governor, Valentin Reznichenko.

Sounds of alarms in Kremenchuk

Marina Marchenko stares off in the direction of the shopping center. Did you know anyone who was inside? “No, but it doesn’t matter. I go every day to do the shopping. The people who were there on Monday are like my family, ”she replies, unable to hold back her tears. The conversation is interrupted by a new air raid alarm, and the request from security officials that everyone leave the place.

On the walk to a safer place, Marchenko, head of a local supermarket chain, says that since Monday she has been “much more afraid than before”. Had she gotten used to the noise of sirens? “You never get used to that. But since Monday, every noise coming out of a car startles me like never before.”

The destroyed shops of the Amstor shopping center after the Russian bombing.
The destroyed shops of the Amstor shopping center after the Russian bombing. Genya Savilov (AFP)

She has lived in Russia for many years and her sister is still on the other side of the border. How do you explain what is happening between the two countries? “It’s an impossible question to answer,” she says. “Putin is a devil. But he is not alone. Many Russian citizens are happy about the missiles falling on Ukraine. My sister, who lives there, says that she sees very little solidarity among the people she knows”, she concludes.

After the attack, messages from Russian citizens were shared on social networks applauding what had happened, and calling for a new Bucha, referring to the massacre of hundreds of civilians that the Russians perpetrated when they withdrew from this town near kyiv. A girl who smokes with her eyes fixed on infinity says that her state of mind does not allow her to speak. Another lady angrily replies that everyone knew a victim and then announces that she does not want to talk to journalists.

Nesterenko, the businessman who was saved from hell for 15 minutes, wants the whole world to know what is happening in his country. He, like most of the inhabitants of Kremenchuk, speaks Russian, but insists that this has nothing to do with it, that the language is not responsible for the bombs. “Russia has become the most fearsome terrorist organization in the world. We have to defeat them as quickly as possible, so they don’t do the same thing to the rest of civilization”, he assures. And he adds that the only thing that Putin proposes on the other side of the border is “missiles, death, blood and tears.” And he asks the journalist that EL PAÍS report exhaustively on the atrocities that are being committed: “The sooner the rest of the world is convinced, the sooner we will defeat them.”

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