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Tearful Goodbyes From Children Killed in Russia Mall Fire: 'We Are Burning, I Love You'

Investigators suspect a child playing with a lighter ignited the Sunday blaze that killed 64 people.

Tearful Goodbyes From Children Killed in Russia Mall Fire: 'We Are Burning, I Love You'
Mikhail Solunin\TASS via Getty Images

A massive fire tore through a shopping mall in Kemerovo, Russia on Sunday killing 64 people, 41 of whom were children.

The blaze started late Sunday afternoon at the Winter Cherry Shopping center in southern Siberia, quickly spreading through a movie theater, children's center, and a skating rink.

The cause of the fire is not yet known, however the New York Times reported on Monday that the region's Deputy Governor, Vladimir Chernov, indicated that a child playing with a lighter in a children's play area may have triggered the inferno. Foam rubber on a trampoline, Chernov said, caught fire and then spread through the children's area, a skating rink, and a movie theater.

"Igor Vostrikov, a local businessman, lost three children in the fire and also his wife, Yelena, and sister, the Times wrote. "They were all trapped in the theater. 'My mother came there immediately, perhaps three minutes later,' Mr. Vostrikov said. 'She begged to open this bloody cinema hall. They could have been rescued. One of the three cinema halls had its doors open and no one died there.'"

As investigators race to determine the cause of the fire, eyewitness accounts are beginning to emerge, including heart-wrenching phone calls from children trapped inside a movie theater to their parents.

One 11-year-old boy, Sergei Moskalenko, survived by jumping out of a window. He was the only member of his family to survive and is currently in a coma.

Thirteen-year-old Maria Moroz was killed shortly after texting her family that she was about to die. "We are burning...I love you.. all of you... Looks like this is farewell from me.."

The aunt of 11-year-old Viktoria Pochankona shared her niece's last moments on a phone call she received during the fire.

"She said that everything was in flames, and that the doors were blocked in the cinema. She said she couldn't escape and couldn't breathe," Yevgeniya Oganesyan told the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda. "I told her: Vika, take off your clothes and bring them to your nose, breathe through your clothes. She told me, 'Tell Mummy that I loved her. Tell everyone that I loved them.'"

Father Alexander Lillevyali said he received a call from his daughters who were in the movie theater when the fire broke out. His daughters said the room was filling with smoke, but couldn't get out because the doors were locked. By the time he made it upstairs, it was too late.

"As I was running up the stairs, somebody handed me a wet rag, and I used it to cover my nose," Lillevyali told Meduza, an independent newspaper. "When I reached the fourth floor, I broke a window to send the draft upwards. Then I collapsed. I started crawling, but I realized at this point that I'd lost all strength." Lillevyali added that his daughers "kept calling me and calling me. I just shouted into the phone that she needed to try to get out of the theater, but there was nothing I could do. In front of me, it was already flames."

Do "not even doubt" those responsible will be punished.

Anger is spreading through Russia as calls for the Kremlin to investigate the fire continue to grow. Thousands of people rallied in Kemerovo demanding to know, at the very least, why there were no escape routes and why scores of children were locked inside a burning movie theater. President Vladimir Putin traveled to the mall, which is scheduled to be demolished, to lay flowers and console families and members of the community. The president believes criminal negligence is responsible for the fire. As many as 100 investigators have been dispatched to investigate the fire, and the Kremlin has hinted at harsh penalties for those responsible. Do "not even doubt" those responsible will be punished, Putin said.

"Hearing about so many children who died fills you with a desire to not simply cry but to wail," a visibly shaken Putin told the crowd. "We lost so many people because of criminal negligence and sloppiness." Putin also remarked that "the investigators will check the entire chain, starting from those who issued permissions and ending with those who were responsible for safety."

So far, 58 bodies have been recovered. Six are still missing, however many of the remains are so badly charred that DNA will likely be required to identify the victims.