Russian Cultural Centre fire probe after ‘terror attack’ claim

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Authorities on Thursday launched an investigation into the causes of the fire at the Russian Cultural Centre, which Russian diplomats have attributed to a ‘terror attack’ on the building.

Police told the Financial Mirror that officers and members of the Fire Service were on site looking into what started the blaze, which caused extended damage to the interior and exterior of the building.

Police Spokesperson Christos Andreou said that initial investigations did not reveal any indication of arson, including evidence that Molotov bombs were thrown at the building, as the centre’s director claimed.

The Fire Service confirmed that the fire had started outside the buildings from flammable materials used in the renovation work.

In comments to the Financial Mirror, Fire Service Spokesperson Andreas Kettis said the fire’s starting point had been located, but the cause is yet unknown.

“We can confirm that we are at the site with police officers, looking into how the fire started.

“From the evidence, we now know the fire started outside, causing extensive damage to the exterior of the building,” said Kettis.

The interior of the building suffered extensive damage due to high temperatures and smoke entering the building from broken windows.

The investigation was described as “complex” due to the intensity of the fire and high temperatures.

“Any suspicious evidence we come across is being handed over to the police for further evaluation,” said Kettis.

The fire broke out around 1.30 pm Wednesday at the Russian Cultural Centre in the heart of Nicosia, sending plumes of black smoke into the sky.

It raged for just under two hours.

The centre, undergoing renovation, is under the auspices of the Russian embassy and is a popular venue for art exhibitions, movie screenings, and school plays.

Yevgeny Primakov, head of Rossotrudnichestvo, the Russian government’s cultural promotion agency, said it was an act of ‘terrorism’.

“We qualify this as a terrorist attack since it is an attack on a civilian, peaceful building, clearly with the aim of not only causing damage but also intimidating both our employees and the people who come to this cultural centre,” Primakov told Russia-24 TV channel.

The centre’s head, and Russian diplomat, Alina Radchenko, told the Russian state news agency TASS that the building “caught fire after Molotov cocktails were thrown”.

“Two strong explosions occurred; walls and the rooftop are burning,” she said.

“People have been evacuated.

“According to eyewitnesses, Molotov cocktails were thrown at the building.”

It was built in 1978 and is in a separate part of the city from the embassy itself.

More than 18,000 Russians and over 4,600 Ukrainians live on the island.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in early 2022, Cyprus has also received around 17,000 Ukrainian refugees.