Three people were killed and six others were injured when a Russian missile hit a five-storey apartment building in a city in southeastern Ukraine on Thursday, police said, as the war extended into its second year.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said several floors of the building were destroyed in the strike in Zaporizhzhia, which occurred while it was still dark.
The State Emergency Service said in an online statement that it had rescued 11 people so far.
Zaporizhzhia, a large city that had a population of more than 700,000 before Russia’s full-scale invasion of its neighbour just over a year ago, is the administrative capital of the partially occupied Zaporizhzhia region, which is home to Europe’s largest nuclear plant.
Russian artillery, drones and missiles have pounded Ukrainian-held areas in the country’s south and east for months. Moscow denies aiming at civilian targets, but its indiscriminate shelling has wrought wide destruction in urban centres.
The war largely slowed to a grinding stalemate during the winter months.
Meanwhile, a fierce battle continued for control of Bakhmut, a key eastern stronghold where Ukrainian officials say they might strategically withdraw.
Ukraine’s General Staff reported that the Russian forces “continue to advance and storm the city,” but Kyiv’s troops repelled some of the attacks on the ruined city.
Bakhmut was among cities and villages in the Donetsk region that came under Russian shelling, according to the General Staff update.
Taking the city could not only give the Russian forces a rare battlefield gain after months of setbacks but might rupture Ukraine’s supply lines and allow the Kremlin’s forces to press toward other Ukrainian strongholds in Donetsk.
Moscow accuses Ukraine of Russian soil attack
For their part, Kremlin officials on Thursday accused Ukrainian saboteurs of crossing into western Russia and attacking local villages. The exact circumstances of the incident reported in the Bryansk region were unclear, including what the strategic purpose of such an attack would be.
If confirmed, it would be another indication following drone attacks earlier this week that Kyiv could be stepping up pressure against Moscow by exposing Russian defensive weaknesses, embarrassing the Kremlin and sowing unease among Russian civilians.
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The announcement could also be used by Russian authorities to step up its attacks in Ukraine in retaliation.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak described the Russian reports as “a classic deliberate provocation.”
Russia “wants to scare its people to justify the attack on another country [and] the growing poverty after the year of war,” he tweeted, suggesting that the attack was the work of Russian partisans.
Russia’s Federal Security Service was quoted by the state Tass news agency as saying that “activities to eliminate armed Ukrainian nationalists who violated the state border” were underway in Bryansk region.
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Tass, citing Russian law enforcement, reported earlier up to six people were being held hostage. The agency reported that two villages in the region — Sushany and Lyubechane — were under attack by “several dozen armed fighters.”
Alexander Bogomaz, the governor of the Bryansk region, which borders Ukraine, said the group fired on a vehicle in Lyubechane, killing one man and wounding a child. He also said that a Ukrainian drone struck a house in Sushany, setting it ablaze.
Earlier in the week, the Kremlin said drones that were launched by Ukraine flew deep inside Russian territory, including one that got within 100 kilometres of Moscow.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said that President Vladimir Putin cancelled a planned trip to southern Russia set for Thursday and was receiving reports on the situation from the regional governor.
Top U.S., Russia diplomats chat briefly
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov chatted for roughly 10 minutes on the sidelines of the G20 conference in New Delhi, according to U.S. officials. The short encounter came as relations between Washington and Moscow have plummeted over Russia’s war with Ukraine.
It is believed to be the first contact that Blinken and Lavrov have had since last summer, when they spoke by phone. Soon after, WNBA star Brittney Griner — who had been detained for several months in Russia — was released in a swap that saw a Russian arms dealer deported from the U.S. after serving several years of a prison sentence.
The G20 meeting ended Thursday in New Delhi without a consensus on the Ukraine war, India’s foreign minister said.
Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said there were “divergences” on the issue of war in Ukraine “which we could not reconcile as various parties held differing views.”
The host nation has refrained from directly criticizing Russia, its major Cold War-era ally, while increasing imports of Russian oil, even as it has increasingly faced pressure from Western nations to take a firm stand on Moscow.
In a video address to the assembled foreign ministers, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged them not to allow current tensions to destroy agreements that might be reached on food and energy security, climate change and debt.
Last week, India was forced to issue a compromised chair’s summary at the conclusion of the G20 finance ministers meeting after Russia and China objected to a joint communique that retained language on the war in Ukraine drawn directly from last year’s G20 summit declaration in Indonesia.