Grief overwhelms Kemerovo as whole families are buried

Grief overwhelms Kemerovo as whole families are buried
The Associated Press

KEMEROVO, Russia (AP) — A fresh row of graves in a cemetery in Kemerovo attests to the grief of this Russian city.

Entire families who died trapped inside the fire-engulfed Winter Cherry mall are buried here: a 5-year-old girl, her mother and grandmother; a mother and a 9-year-old daughter. The graves of young children are covered with flowers and teddy bears.

Distraught relatives on a sunny Thursday afternoon were saying their goodbyes to 10-year-old Vadim Chmykhalov, who was laid to rest amid other graves all marked with the date of the fire, March 25.

The boy’s aunt, Irina Chumakova, dressed in black and sobbing, said she feels “alone with the grief.”

“We want to know the truth,” she said. “But who is going to tell us? They are washing their hands of it and shifting responsibility.”

The city of half a million people, 3,000 kilometers (1,900 miles) east of Moscow, is trying to come to terms with the fire last Sunday that engulfed the mall, killing 64 people, including children locked inside a movie theater.

Some of the families have still to wait weeks before they can bury their loved ones.

Igor Vostrikov, who lost his entire family in the fire, said the investigators have not sent released the bodies of his wife, sister and three daughters to Moscow for genetic tests.

“Now I have to wait three weeks because they are burnt so much you cannot identify them,” he said.

Elsewhere in the city, residents continued to take flowers to a makeshift memorial.

The deadly fire caused an outpouring of grief and indignation against local authorities. The Kemerovo governor never visited the site of the fire, while President Vladimir Putin did not announce a period of national mourning until days after the fire.

Many locals mistrust the investigators and fear authorities might be hiding the real scale of the disaster.

“We still don’t know what really happened, and no one takes the responsibility,” said 37-year-old nurse Valentina Skripchenko who brought three roses to the memorial outside the mall.

Tatyana Stupel, whose neighbor’s daughter died at the mall, placed a poster at the memorial along with flowers. But moments later an Associated Press reporter saw it removed by a man wearing plain clothes.

She said she had written “No one takes the responsibility” because locals “didn’t get the answers” about what happened.

So far, investigators have identified a short circuit as a possible cause of the fire and said the emergency exits were locked shut, hampering any evacuation.

Vostrikov told the AP on Thursday that the investigators showed him CCTV footage from outside the movie theater, showing that the doors to the theater were not locked shut until a man came and locked them, supposedly to keep the smoke out until the rescue team arrived. It never did.

On Wednesday, a local court arrested one of the mall’s tenants, the mall’s technical director, two employees of a company maintaining the fire alarm system and a security guard who the investigators said turned off the fire alarm.

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Nataliya Vasilyeva contributed to this report from Moscow.

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