Kharkiv opera house and concert hall hit in attack on Ukraine’s second largest city

1 March 2022, 15:39 | Updated: 1 March 2022, 17:09

Russia bombs Kharkiv's Freedom Square and opera house
Russia bombs Kharkiv's Freedom Square and opera house. Picture: Getty/Alamy

By Sophia Alexandra Hall

Russian missiles and rockets have hit the “cultural heart” of Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv.

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Freedom Square in the centre of Kharkiv has been hit by a huge Russian missile, causing severe damage to an opera house, concert hall, and government offices in an explosion of fire.

The Kharkiv State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre, and the next-door Kharkiv Philharmonic are seen to have been hit in the airstrike, in footage circulating on social media (warning: distressing images).

Kharkiv, which is Ukraine’s second largest city, has been heavily bombed since the war began last week, and today’s attack alone has killed 10 people, and left 35 injured. Rescuers are still searching for civilians who may be buried underneath the rubble.

Freedom Square is the second largest city-centre square in Europe, and a landmark of the city. Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky described the strike as an “act of terrorism” in a speech to the European Parliament. His speech comes a day after he signed an application for Ukraine to join the European Union.

In his European Parliament address just hours after the attack, reported on 1 March, President Zelensky said: “This morning was a very tragic one for us, two cruise missiles hit Kharkiv.

“More than 20 universities are there. Many Russians live there. The youth are bright and smart there, people would gather there for celebrations.

“The largest square in our country – Freedom Square – can you imagine this morning two cruise missiles hit it. This is the price of freedom that we are finding for our land and for our freedom.

“Every square in every city of our country will be called Freedom Square.”

(warning: distressing footage below)

On Tuesday, Freedom Square was littered with debris, with all the buildings surrounding the square sustaining damage.

“This is not a random mistaken salvo, but a conscious extermination of people. The Russians knew what they were firing at,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on the shelling of Freedom Square, and other residential targets of Russia’s latest airstrike.

Earlier this week the invading Russian forces burned down The Museum of Local History in the Ukrainian town of Ivankiv.

The J. Paul Getty Trust in Los Angeles has condemned Russia for the “deliberate” burning of sites linked to the history of arts and culture in Ukraine, which now include the opera house and Philharmonic as well as the Ivankiv Museum.

“The material cultural legacy of the world is our common heritage, the identity and inspiration for all humanity,” said Getty president and chief executive James Cuno.

“Cultural heritage has the power to unite us and is critical for achieving peace. It is also too often the target of war, another way to destroy and overtake a society by erasing its memory.”