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When the end came for Retroville’s brief existence as Ukraine’s newest, largest and most sophisticated shopping mall the whole of Kyiv felt it.
My own windows shook so vigorously I thought the explosion was in a nearby street rather than five miles away in Podilskyi, a business hub in the north west of the city.
‘The biggest bang I ever heard!’ said a contact in the neighbouring district of Obolon that has undergone more than its fair share of bombardment in Putin’s dirty war.
The blow fell on Retroville a little before 11pm local time on Sunday. It is thought that a Russian ballistic missile was responsible.
Richard Pendlebury visited the site of a destroyed Ukrainian shopping centre that is thought to have been hit by a Russian ballistic missile, the explosion also damaged a nearby block flats
Retroville was a large shopping centre based in Kyiv, that was targeted as Russian’s believed that it was being used to store rocket systems
Footage (pictured) shows the moment the large mall was hit and destroyed by Russia
Certainly CCTV and Russian drone propaganda footage showed a dart of light from the sky followed by an enormous fireball that could be seen for miles across the rooftops. So far eight people are known to have died in the blast.
On another lovely spring morning marred by air-raid sirens, checkpoint stops and distant artillery fire, the Mail went to inspect the aftermath.
The Apple Maps app we used to guide ourselves to the mall was still under the impression it was open for business. Clearly Silicon Valley had yet to catch up with events here.
Retroville’s name remained silhouetted against the sky in letters almost 20 feet high but that’s where the good news ended. Behind the tattered frontage there was no longer 100,000 square metres of 21st century, state-of-the-art consumer dreamscape but a shambolic mess of shattered concrete and twisted metal.
The point of impact was at the rear of the multi-storey development. Ground zero appeared to be the Sport Life health club, the ‘biggest fitness centre in Ukraine’.
The big red letters that spelled ‘SPORT’ were still visible but were teetering on the largest of several giant heaps of debris. Underneath it all, a local told me wistfully, was what remained of a large heated swimming pool and jacuzzi.
Kyiv’s mayor and wartime totem, Vitali Klitschko, was in attendance when Retroville was declared open in May 2020, after hundreds of millions had been ploughed into its construction over seven years.
‘This is an important and long-awaited moment,’ the developers declared at the time. ‘We didn’t slow the construction tempos of the mall… even during the difficult Covid lockdown period.’
It was, they said, ‘a unique concept, a true lifestyle centre’.
A police officer stands guard at the wreckage of a damaged shopping mall in Kyiv by the Russian air strikes, amid the Russian invasion
At least 4 people were killed in the Russian attack on shopping mall (pictured)
Aerial footage from the Russian Defence ministry shows the missile hitting shopping mall in Kyiv
As well as the mega-gym, Retroville boasts – or rather, boasted – the first multiplex cinema in Kyiv ‘with new ScreenX technology’ and the city’s largest food court.
The logos of a number of international brands – H&M, Timberland, Lacoste and McDonald’s – that had opened concessions under its roof remain around the entrance.
But some were looking rather careworn yesterday due to blast damage, while others had disappeared altogether.
The ‘N’ of the giant green logo of the Novus supermarket chain, Ukraine’s equivalent of Tesco or Sainsbury’s, was on the pavement.
And the once-proud facade of the mall had been ripped away, exposing its complex intestines of heating pipes.
Given the strength of the explosion it was no surprise to find that the collateral damage was significant. Yet it was still disturbing to see the impact on the recently completed Varshavskiy residential estate next door.
Every window in the nearest 25-storey block was shattered, curtains billowing out across the balconies in the breeze.
There are estates like it on the edge of any city in Europe, sold as elegant urban living with country views. At ground level there are artisanal coffee houses, restaurants and chi-chi salons. But now there was also a sea of glass and the doors of the Study Academy and a number of other businesses had been blown off their hinges.
Workmen were arriving with that most sought-after material in Kyiv, plywood, while residents were leaving clutching hand luggage and children’s toys.
No, one old woman told me, she did not want to re-live last night for my benefit. But she had one message for the world: ‘I would like Putin dead and all his accomplices. Look at what they do!’
Widowed accountant Galina invited me to her 12th floor flat overlooking ground zero so I could better appreciate her good fortune in escaping unhurt from the catastrophe. We had to climb the stairs because the lift no longer worked. Who needs Sport Life? Tower-block climbing is a new kind of city-wide fitness regime – imposed on the population by the Kremlin.
She bought her one-bedroom apartment exactly 12 months ago, after the death of her husband.
It was full of light, with great views. But it was also carpeted with glass shards and whole window frames that had been blown across rooms when the missile hit. Her front door was buckled in its frame by the shockwave.
‘I was sitting at my desk doing a little work and checking on the news when it happened,’ she said. ‘I was covered in glass fragments. But fortunately the curtains were drawn and I had put a lot of tape across the panes, which prevented me being really hurt.’
The flames ‘were like hellfire’ she said. Workmen were clearing the wreckage for her but she will be staying with a neighbour on the other side of the block for now.
The obvious question is this: why did the Russians hit Retroville? Purely to terrorise the population and destroy Kyiv’s infrastructure, I was told by a number of locals. An entirely plausible explanation given what is happening across Ukraine.
But the boundaries between frontline and civilian areas are blurred in locations like this. Last night Moscow claimed the mall was hit because it was being used to store rocket systems.
While I was speaking to Galina, her flat was suddenly filled with a tremendous roaring and wailing noise. It came from a nearby field, where I could see a Ukrainian Grad rocket system launching its projectiles towards frontline targets at Hostomel or Bucha.
Galina also told me she saw secondary explosions after the first Retroville blast and a Ukrainian bomb disposal team was carrying out controlled explosions on the site while we were there. Colleagues saw military ordnance which had been scattered by the explosion.
But was it necessary to hit Retroville with something so big that it would shatter not only the whole complex but the surrounding neighbourhood too? Or start this squalid war, for that matter?
I am writing this at a corner table of the Chasing Two Hares restaurant on Andreevsky Descent. It is owned by Tetiana Mytrofano, who was the brains behind the trident sculpture made with 1.5 million cut tulips outside St Sophia’s Cathedral that I wrote about yesterday.
A pianist was playing in the back room and Tetiana was busy planning her next big ‘happening’ to boost her city’s morale. ‘Something involving paint,’ she told me.
At the next table a territorial defence unit soldier was drinking coffee having propped his rifle against the velvet-buttoned banquette. Outside, faint sounds of battle were drifting along the lovely cobbled street. Kyiv remains defiant. But Retroville is now very much a thing of the past.