A tragic fire has erupted violently and unexpectedly in a Siberian mall, making it one of the worst in recent Russian memory, claiming the lives of at least 64 people, including children. The fire raged in a shopping mall called “Winter Cherry”, in the Siberian city of Kemerovo, one what should have been a quiet Sunday afternoon, March 25th, 2018. Now it’s an ashen valley of tears.
The shopping center “Winter Cherry” was opened five years ago. The mall complex contained shops, a large cinema, entertainment centers (including children’s playgrounds) and a fitness club. It was a four floor complex of around 19 thousand square meters.
The last time fire inspections were conducted there in 2016, “no serious violations were found”, according to Russian media, but we will have more to say about this, as it appears there is more to it than just that.
The youtube channel 112 has a video of the moment the fire allegedly began, as what appears to be electrical lighting explodes violently over the children’s playground. Parents grab their children and rush out, as very ominously, and all too fast, black smoke suddenly fills the entire corridor and rooms in a matter of seconds, obscuring completely the camera’s view.
Footage of smoke rising from the exterior of the mall can be seen here, without commentary or reporting:
RT has several reports with video and coverage of the events:
As always, thanks to smartphones and the internet, there are now heartbreaking communications of the victims with their loved ones, including those of children on the internet. I do not share this for shock, and contemplated not sharing them at all, but I did for one reason.
It is all too easy, for us to become desensitized to tragedy, we hear about it every day on news apps, on TV, and via the internet. We must not forget that there were very real Children suffering in this inferno, and now they are gone. If that is depressing, it should be, that makes us human, we should not so easily hear stories of tragedy like a weather report, we should feel something. It should also motivate us to prevent such tragedies in our own communities, as we will later read on, it is possible this fire was preventable.
Here are some of the victim’s messages, according to RT:
“I cannot escape,” 12-year-old Vika Pochankina, who was in the cinema with her classmates, told her aunt Evgeniya Oganisyan on the phone, Komsomolskaya Pravda reports.
“Tell mom that I loved her. Tell everybody that I loved them,” the girl said, before hanging up. It is unclear if the girl or any of her classmates survived.
As reports emerged of scores of children still missing, a screenshot of a chilling message from a young girl, Maria Morozova, who was at the mall, appeared online. “We are burning. Maybe goodbye,” it read.
There is also a graphic video of someone jumping from the Inferno, which is not for the faint of heart.
On a more positive note…if you could call it that, here are some accounts from survivors:
“We were sitting in the cinema on the third floor. A woman ran to us and screamed that we should run. Everyone started to run away, me and the children, there were seven of us. When we ran out, no one could help us with anything,” Ekaterina, who was in the cinema with her children, told Ruptly.
“When you read the list of the deceased, you realize that you know all these people,” a young woman, Lyudmila Nagornaya, said. She referred to unofficial lists that have emerged on social media.
According to RT, another fire has erupted in the evacuated mall on Monday, as firefighters are still searching through the debris, after putting out the first one, which had a temperature ranging between 600-800 degrees Celsius.
The smoldering debris prompted a new phase of the fire, Russian Emergencies Minister Vladimir Puchkov told reporters on Monday.
“We keep washing down there. The search and rescue mission has to be completed. Relatives of the victims are waiting for the results,” the minister added.
In the meantime, rescuers have been searching through the five-story building of the Winter Cherry mall, risking their own lives, as the mall’s structure is no longer secure.
The deadly blaze on Sunday killed 64 people, according to the latest figures. Six bodies still remain under the debris. 17 bodies have been identified so far, with investigators working with the families of the victims. Some cases will require genetic expertise due to the condition of the bodies, Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova said.
The Investigation – allegations of negligence?
Now that the flames are out, an investigation is underway to determine the cause of the fire.
According to Sputnik, Kremlin spokesmen Dmitri Peskov was quoted as saying:
“It would be completely wrong to talk about some versions now. You know that the Investigative Committee is working on the scene of the tragedy. In fact, only the Investigative Committee can now put forward any versions of what has happened, and it is wrong to get ahead of ourselves and talk about something now,” Peskov told reporters.
Others including witnesses, however, have been quick to declare the cause of the fire to be what they consider criminal negligence. The Sputnik report continues.
In an interview with the channel Rossiya 24, child ombudsman Anna Kuznetsova has suggested that the reason for the fire was negligence of security norms.
“Negligence is the cause. All norms are written. But the way we treat these [security] norms is the catastrophic cause of the tragedy we have witnessed today,” Kuznetsova said.
Throughout the entire story, across multiple sources, there have been consistent reports that the fire alarm was not working, or had been deactivated by an employee. The Investigative Committee has already appeared to confirm that, at the least, via their spokeswoman saying in the same Sputnik report:
“The issue of detention of the fifth suspect, a PSC [private security company] employee who turned off an alarm system after receiving a signal about the fire, is being discussed. Serious violations were committed both during the shopping center’s entry in service and in the process of its work. Fire exits in the shopping center were blocked,” the spokeswoman said, as quoted in the committee’s Telegram channel.
To give complete context to this report, when the spokeswoman mentions a “fifth suspect”, Russian news sources are already reporting that four suspects have been detained prior.
A separate Sputnik report with witness testimony makes the situation appear even more damning for the mall owners and employees responsible. Witnesses allege that mall employees lied to men who were trying to save children. If this is true, the reason for this bizarre and indeed criminal action is completely incomprehensible:
“I saw young men pulling children out. My boyfriend was in a state of shock. They tried to enter the cinema hall, but the employees of the “Winter Cherry” told us there were no kids. The guys were doing it on their last breath, holding their noses [not to get poisoned from gas]. But it turned out there were children. They lied to us, they could have saved the kids!” the witness told RT.
Currently, according to Life.ru, investigators have detained the formal manager of mall Nadezhda Suddenok, however upon further examination, they identified the real owner of the complex as businessman Denis Shtengelov, who according to Kommersat.ru, is currently not in Russia. There are allegations presented on that same site, that billionaire Shtengelov perhaps suffered a financial deficit, and did not invest sufficiently in the safety of the mall. If this is true, that is a vast understatement.
What is really odd, is that according to Kommersat.ru, the company that manages the building belongs to the category of “small business”, and is therefore subject to more lax fire inspections, as a result of a technicality. In Russia, a small company is a firm with an annual revenue of no more than 800 million rubles.
Moreover, in a Kommersat article, Russian expert Alexei Petropolsky, member of the organization Opora Rossii (Pillar of Russia) has made a very strong observation, (and accusation), saying:
The most important thing, is that this is a place of mass gathering, and therefore it must have a “safety passport”, which is checked by the Ministry for Emergency Situations, and the FSB. Most likely, the safety passport was issued through corrupt ties.
While we can not independently verify those claims, if taken together, they all present a very bleak image, and we can only wait for more evidence, and the investigation to complete.
There is nothing more to say, except: