Blaze hits residential home for the elderly in Ukraine

Firefighters work at the site of a fire in a nursing home in Kharkiv [State Emergency Service of Ukraine/AFP]
Firefighters work at the site of a fire in a nursing home in Kharkiv [State Emergency Service of Ukraine/AFP]

A fire outbreak has left at least 15 people have been killed and 11 injured after a blaze tore through a residential home for the elderly in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, the fire broke out on Thursday afternoon in the two-storey building and spread to cover about 100 square metres.

The emergency service published a photo of the building with bars on the windows of the first floor, smoke could be seen coming from the broken windows of the second floor. “According to preliminary information, 33 people were in the building at the time of the fire and 15 of them died,” according to a service’s statement. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky confirmed the death toll of 15 reported by emergency services, adding: “We all pray that there will be no more.” It was not clear in the immediate aftermath of the fire how many of the survivors were taken to nearby medical facilities for treatment.

The emergency services reported nine people had been admitted to nearby hospitals while Prosecutor General Iryna Venedyktova said 11 people were injured. Zelenskyy offered his condolences on Facebook and said an investigation must take place to prevent a similar tragedy from taking place again, he urged the interior minister to take charge of an inquiry into the incident. The Ukrainian prosecutor general said authorities had launched a criminal investigation and the preliminary cause of the tragedy was the “careless handling of electric heating devices”. Some 50 fire fighters were deployed to the scene.

The facility, called “Zolotoye Vremya” (Golden Time), is located among a clutch of low-rise buildings on the western outskirts of Ukraine’s second largest city. Ukrainian media cited the Kharkiv region’s social protection department chief as saying Zolotoye Vremya was privately owned and had not been registered with government agencies as a residential home. Kharkiv city authorities declared that Friday would be a day of mourning for those killed in the fire. Ukraine’s Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said in a statement that police were questioning the manager of the facility and three service personnel, he added that police were also considering detaining the owner of the nursing home.

Ukraine’s ombudsman Lyudmyla Denisova wrote on her Telegram channel that the facility was home to people aged between 25 and 90. Deadly fires are not uncommon in Ukraine, where compliance with safety regulations is poorly enforced and ageing infrastructure is badly maintained. In December 2019, a fire killed 16 people and injured 30 others at a higher education institution in the Black Sea city of Odessa, the director was later arrested on charges of negligence. In August the same year, a fire in a hotel in Odessa killed nine people. Seventeen people died in May 2016 when a makeshift home for elderly people outside the Ukrainian capital Kiev caught fire.

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