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‘Retaliatory strike’ Actress Polina Menshikh killed during live performance for Russian soldiers in occupied Ukrainian territory

Source: Meduza
Polina Menshikh

Forty-year-old actress and director Polina Menshikh was killed in a Ukrainian missile strike during a live performance for Russian troops in Ukraine’s occupied Donetsk region. The soldiers had gathered to celebrate Missile Forces and Artillery Day, drawing comparisons to Russia’s recent deadly attack on Ukrainian soldiers during an Artillery Day award ceremony. Members of the Ukrainian army have unofficially dubbed the attack a “retaliatory strike.”

Russian actress Polina Menshikh’s death was first reported on November 20 by the St. Petersburg Portal theater, where she’d previously directed a musical. The next day, Russian state news agency TASS said that Menshikh had been killed by shelling in the village of Kumachovo in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (“DNR”), about 70 kilometers (around 50 miles) southeast of the city of Donetsk.

“DNR” authorities reported that the village had come under fire on November 19, adding that a woman born in 1972 had died. Andrey Rudenko, a war correspondent for the Russian state-owned broadcaster VGTRK, said the attack was a Ukrainian HIMARS strike.

Polina Menshikh was an actress and director. For 15 years, she led the Lege Artis theater in Moscow, which she founded. Menshikh said she taught classical ballet, character dance, Irish dance, acting, Russian folk dance, contemporary dance, Baroque dance, and ballet conditioning. She directed plays at the Central House of Journalists, the Presnya arts theater, and the Moscow International House of Music. In recent years, she headed the Nezhen folk-dance theater.

On November 21, pro-war Telegram channels began publishing details of Menshikh’s death, saying she’d been performing at a concert for Russian soldiers in a cultural center just 60 kilometers (around 37 miles) from the front line during the artillery strike. A video circulating on social media allegedly shows the moment during Menshikh’s performance when the building was hit.

Russian pro-war blogger Alexander Kots speculated that the strike on the cultural center was coordinated. “The enemy has hundreds of people on the Internet engaging in OSINT and dozens of pairs of eyes, ready to give a tip-off for 200–500 hryvnias [about $5-14]. This is a fact. And it can’t be ignored,” he wrote.

Rybar, a pro-Kremlin military analysis channel on Telegram, called the concert for the soldiers “the stupidest decision to gather a huge crowd in a conspicuous place.” “Apparently, very smart people had a think and decided that since the concert venue is located 60 kilometers [about 37 miles] from the front line near the Russian border, it would definitely be out of reach,” Rybar wrote.

Pro-war Telegram channel Military Informant compared the incident to a strike on Ukrainian soldiers in the Zaporizhzhia region who were in formation for an award ceremony. “Remember how funny it was when the AFU’s 128th Brigade was ordered to line up in honor of Artillery Day […] for an award ceremony, and then our missiles came? Well, exactly the same alternatively gifted people were found in the Russian army,” wrote Military Informant.

The day after the strike, RIA Novosti published a video from the cultural center where Menshikh was performing. According to RIA’s correspondent, the auditorium was “practically undamaged,” but the roof above the stage was destroyed and the walls were covered in shrapnel. 

Ukrainian Armed Forces are unofficially referring to the strike on Kumachovo as “retribution” for the shelling of Ukraine’s 128th Mountain Assault Brigade, wrote Robert Brovdi, commander of Ukraine’s Madyar’s Birds aerial reconnaissance unit. According to him, soldiers from Russia’s 810th Marine Brigade were in the cultural center. Brovdi claimed 25 people died in the strike and over 100 were injured.

Later, the Ukrainian military's Strategic Communications Center issued a statement saying that Ukrainian forces “successfully inflicted fire damage” on 810th Marine Brigade members who had gathered to celebrate Russia’s Missile Forces and Artillery Day. “The Ukrainian defense forces promptly identified the location of the Russians’ celebratory event and warmly welcomed them. Russian propagandists claim that the precision strike killed several dozen occupiers simultaneously, with about 100 suffering severe injuries,” read the announcement.

The Russian Defense Ministry has not officially commented on the strike, and there is no precise information on the number of deaths. A Russian military expert, who spoke with Novaya Gazeta Europe on condition of anonymity, claims that 23 people died and up to 80 were injured in the strike. According to him, four “visiting artists” were among the dead. There is no confirmation of these data.

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