Ukrainian forces targeted central Donetsk with a barrage of rockets in the early hours of Sunday, with several landing near the Spaso-Preobrazhensky Cathedral, forcing an evacuation and disrupting Orthodox Easter celebrations.
As many as 20 Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) projectiles were fired at around 3:25am from the vicinity of the Ukraine-held settlement of Ochertenino, some 30km northwest of Donetsk, according to the Joint Center for Control and Coordination (JCCC) monitoring group.
Within a few hours of the initial attack, a total of 12 155mm artillery shells hit the city in multiple volleys, while authorities were dealing with the aftermath and tending to the injured.
The overnight bombardment took place as dozens of Orthodox Christians were leaving the cathedral following an Easter vigil. The explosions prompted several panicked people to drop to the ground, while others, including children, rushed back inside the church to seek shelter, according to videos shared on social media.
At least one person was killed and six others injured, according to preliminary reports. An assistant deacon suffered a shrapnel injury to his stomach upon leaving the service, a witness told RT.
While none of the missiles hit the cathedral directly, at least one reportedly struck less than 100 meters away.
“The enemy deliberately attacked the area of the central cathedral on Easter night,” the acting head of Russia’s Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), Denis Pushilin, claimed in a Telegram post. “Scum and savages! Our combat crews are already working to neutralize the bastards.”
Multiple civilian facilities in the area of the central square were hit, including a bus station, a pharmacy, several stores, and a market some 200 meters from the cathedral. A kindergarten caught fire as a result of a near-direct strike, according to another video.
Pushilin had warned the public, following a deadly attack on the town of Yasinovataya on Friday, to exercise extreme caution while celebrating Easter because “the enemy has intensified the shelling… during the holidays.”
The capital of the Donetsk People’s Republic had suffered numerous Ukrainian attacks after rejecting the 2014 Maidan coup in Kiev, which intensified weeks before Russia launched its military operation in February 2022, and the region has taken a heavy toll ever since.
Last October, the DPR was incorporated into Russia together with the People’s Republic of Lugansk and the Zaporozhye and Kherson Regions, following referendums in which locals voted overwhelmingly in favor of the move.