KEMEROVO, March 27. /TASS/. Russian President Vladimir Putin held an unplanned meeting with members of a civic action group in the city of Kemerovo on Tuesday, pledging that all those responsible for the Zimnyaya Vishnya (or Winter Cherry) shopping mall fire would be punished.
The president told the meeting’s participants, which particularly included family members of the fire victims, that there would be a thorough investigation into the incident and those responsible would be punished, regardless of their status. "A 100-member investigative group is working here, headed by the Investigative Committee chief. Rest assured, all those responsible will be punished," Putin said.
Kemerovo residents pointed out that Governor Aman Tuleyev controlled everything in the region and asked if there were plans to sack him.
"It is not right to apportion blame right away. Investigators are working to figure out the truth," the president said. "No one intends to keep anything secret or cover anyone," Putin stressed.
"Everyone will be checked one by one, from those who issued licenses to those who were supposed to ensure safety, particularly that private security company whose guard was just sitting there doing nothing and failed to push the button," Putin said. "All officials will be checked, starting from those who registered the building and issued a license for turning a factory into an entertainment center. Who granted the permission for using this kind of materials for such purposes? We will not apportion blame right now but investigators will work to the fullest," the president stressed.
According to Putin, the main issue is that there can be a lot of such buildings across the country.
"We have started to look into it… Who gave the permission for using such materials? They are flammable and cannot be used in places of mass gatherings. This is clear from the first reports presented by investigators. All those who should be responsible will have to answer," Putin said. He also said there was no reason to question the official number of fire victims and advised the people not to believe information spread on social media as it was often unverified.
During Putin’s meeting with local authorities, several hundred people gathered in front of the administration’s office, saying they did not believe the officially announced number of victims. City Mayor Ilya Seredyuk and 15 members of a civic action group went to the mortuary of the Forensic Examiner's Office to ensure that the actual number of victims corresponded to that announced officially.
The president changed his plans, deciding to hold a meeting with the civic action group and came to the Forensic Examiner's Office. "How could you allow such decisions to be made concerning that building?" Putin asked the city’s mayor. Seredyuk replied that the decision on the building’s commissioning had been made in 2014, before he took office. However, he admitted that the building had been last checked in 2016.
"There were no checks in the past two years though it was necessary to ensure safety," the president pointed out.
Putin visited those injured in the shopping mall fire in Kemerovo's regional hospital on Tuesday.
The head of state, in particular, spoke with Ivan Zavarzin, 18, who jumped from the fourth floor during the fire. The young man said he was in the shopping mall with his father, and during the first minutes many could not believe the situation was really serious. For her part, Russian Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova informed the president that Ivan’s father was alive, while he himself was recuperating.
Putin also met with the three men who helped evacuate people from the shopping mall when the fire broke out. Those were Andrei Sergeyev, 35, Alexander Kalachev, 21, and Nikolai Lobikov, 42. The head of state wished all those injured a speedy recovery.
The fire at the Zimnyaya Vishnya (Winter Cherry) shopping mall in Kemerovo erupted on March 25 on the top floor of the four-story building. According to the latest information, the fire has claimed the lives of 64 people, including 41 children. Of these, twenty-five have been identified. The regional authorities declared three days of mourning.
Meanwhile, a source in the emergency services told TASS that another 68 people had been injured and poisoned with combustion products. There are three children among those taken to the hospital.