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World

Russians Mourn As Funerals Begin For Mall Fire Victims

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

There are more funerals today in Kemerovo. That's the Siberian city where fire consumed a shopping mall this past Sunday, taking the lives of more than 64 people. Two-thirds of them were children. This tragedy has led to an outpouring of grief and anger all over Russia. Reuters correspondent Polina Ivanova is in Kemerovo, and she's on the line. Hi, Polina.

POLINA IVANOVA: Hi. Hi, David.

GREENE: So we're four days on now since this tragedy. I guess the funerals just keep on going. There are too many of them. What does it feel like in the city?

IVANOVA: I mean, the city is clearly absolutely devastated. It's a small city, and there are not - I don't think there's a single person here who hasn't been affected in some way. I mean, everyone you meet asks about the funerals, or they have relatives involved, or friends, people at their work who passed away. There were a lot of funerals yesterday. There are only two today. This is because the process of identifying the bodies has reached quite a difficult stage. A lot of bodies are now going to be sent to Moscow for DNA tests in order to be able to identify them. The kind of bodies that are easier to identify have now been buried, and were buried yesterday. So there are only two funerals today. I just came back from one for a boy called Vadim (ph), who's 10 years old. It was a very, very moving scene. I think the town is completely devastated.

GREENE: How did they react when the president, Vladimir Putin, came to visit them on Tuesday?

IVANOVA: So Tuesday was - yeah. Tuesday was a difficult day. People had called protests from the very morning. This wasn't linked to Putin's arrival, necessarily. People weren't clear. It wasn't known that he was coming almost until he'd arrived. And, yeah, so about 1,500 people gathered around 9 o'clock in the morning in the center of town and stayed there for basically the entire day. And it was emotional. It was very tense. People were angry. People were very angry. They were calling for the resignation of the governor, of the mayor who came out to speak. And his voice was completely drowned out. The deputy governor came out and actually went down on his knees and asked the residents of the city, he asked for their forgiveness. And there were banners calling for Putin's resignation, or, at least, I think there was quite a number calling for him to be jailed, in fact. It was a tense time.

GREENE: It's so interesting because in tragedies like this, and in this tragedy, Putin seems to make the argument that he's on the side of the people and this is the fault of local and regional officials. I mean, how much blame is Putin getting in this?

IVANOVA: It's difficult to say. I think people almost are in such a state of grief at the moment that they don't really know exactly where to direct their anger. There's been a lot of dispute about the number of dead at the moment. That is the main discussion in the city, and I think that's a way for people to channel their anger at authority figures and at the government, and including at, I mean, the governor, the president, a whole range of authority figures. I think people don't know where to direct their anger at the moment.

GREENE: Polina Ivanova is a correspondent with Reuters, and she is on the line from the Siberian city of Kemerovo, where the fire took place days ago. Thanks so much. We appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.