Trapped in Russian mall fire, children said farewell by phone

MOSCOW (NYTIMES) – The theatre was packed, and children’s movies were on the screens when the smoke began billowing in. When panicked audience members rushed for the exits, they found them blocked.

Many used their phones to plead for help, among them Victoria Pochankina, an 11-year-old girl on a class trip to the Siberian mall where a fire on Sunday killed at least 64 people, many of them children.

“She called me at 4.11pm the last time and told me that everything was in flames, and that the doors were blocked in the cinema, and that she cannot get out,” Victoria’s aunt, Yevgeniya Oganesyan, told the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda.

“I told her: Vika, take off your clothes and take them to your nose, breathe through your clothes,” Oganesyan said. “She told me, ‘Tell mummy that I loved her.'”

Russian authorities looking into the cause of the fire in Kemerovo, an industrial city of about half a million people more than 3,000km east of Moscow, on Monday (March 26) confirmed accounts that emergency exits at the mall had been blocked. They also said a security guard had switched off the fire alarm system.

Relatives recounted hauntingly similar stories of speaking by phone to loved ones trapped in the flames – but being unable to help them.

Alexander and Olga Lillevyali told Meduza.io, a news website, that their three daughters had been watching “Sherlock Gnomes” when smoke began to fill the theatre. READ MORE

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