12:11 GMT28 February 2021
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    KEMEROVO (Russia) (Sputnik) - The Russian city of Kemerovo is mourning the victims of the deadly fire set a shopping center ablaze this weekend, while some local residents have organized an unauthorized demonstration to protest against the actions of regional authorities.

    The fire broke out in the Zimnyaya Vishnya ("Winter Cherry") shopping center in Kemerovo on Sunday. The official data on the number of casualties indicates that 64 people, including many children, died in the tragic incident. The Kemerovo fire was one of the deadliest blazes in Russia in recent years.

    The Kemerovo Region declared a three-day mourning period, while Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree declaring Wednesday as the national day of mourning.

    Unauthorized Demonstration

    At 9 a.m. local time (02:00 GMT) residents of Kemerovo started gathering near the angel statue on the Soviet Square, which is a symbol of the Kemerovo Region.

    Mayor of Kemerovo Ilya Seredyuk and the region's vice governor, Sergey Tsivilev, tried to communicate with the protesters, who demanded

    that the real number of victims be revealed as well as to talk to long-time regional Governor Aman Tuleyev. The protesters chanted: "Truth! Truth! Tuleyev! Tuleyev!" Some of them held posters asking for the real death toll of the fire.

    Police did not interfere with what went on at the square but ensured security of the regional administration, blocking protesters' access to Soviet Avenue in order to avoid disruptions in traffic.

    The exact number of protesters who gathered at Soviet Square is unknown, but estimates have indicated it could have been several hundred people or as many as 2,000 people. The demonstration lasted for almost 11 hours, with the protesters only leaving the square after 8:00 p.m. local time.

    Unusual Decisions

    Responding to the demands to reveal the real death toll, the authorities decided to let the activists visit the morgues. Some 10 protesters inspected the facilities and reported back what they saw.

    "We have just visited the morgue and counted [the victims]. I looked through the list, the death toll. That was not the best picture. We visited all cabinets, utility rooms, toilets, roofs, garages, all vehicles; everything we could check, we have inspected. We checked the list of dead people, which includes 64 victims," one of the activists said.

    When they returned to Soviet Square, protesters had already discussed other rumors about large graves prepared at city cemeteries.

    "The mayor once again proposed to create a group [of activists], I went again, this time to the cemetery. We saw seven graves and a space for future graves," he added.

    Later in the day, Tsivilev called on local residents to disclose any information about the fire that was still unknown to the authorities. The vice governor also proposed to create a working group composed of officials and relatives of the victims to monitor the course of investigation and even inspect the cemeteries. Tsivilev also expressed his willingness to join the working group.

    The protesters also demanded an inspection of orphanages, fearing that the authorities were trying to hide the real number of children that died in the fire.

    Vice Governor on Knees

    Seven hours after the start of the demonstration, the authorities asked the protesters to end the rally, which they refused to do. Tsivilev tried to communicate with the activists but noticed that his efforts were futile.

    "I want to ask for your forgiveness," the official said, dropping to his knees saying that this was a Russian tradition.

    The crowd reacted with applause.

    Hundreds of Balloons And Queues for Flowers

    After the end of the working day, many people came to the Zimnyaya Vishnya shopping center to lay down flowers commemorating the victims. There were huge lines in front of flower shops.

    At 7 p. m. Kemerovo time, local residents gathered near Zimnyaya Vishnya with balloons and flowers. Hundreds of balloons were released into the sky and people driving by welcomed them with their horns.

    Mourning rallies also took place in a number of Russian cities. Moscow residents gathered on Pushkin Square to commemorate the victims of the tragedy in Kemerovo. Residents of the Republic of Mari El released hundreds of white balloons in the city of Yoshkar-Ola. Various mourning events also took place in the cities of St. Petersburg, Grozny, Samara and others.


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    investigation, protest, fire, victims, mourning, Zimnyaya Vishnya shopping mall, Aman Tuleyev, Kemerovo, Russia
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