A Russian missile struck an apartment building in eastern Ukraine Sunday, killing at least 15 people as Moscow’s forces sought to consolidate their control over the Donbas region.
“During the rescue operation, 15 bodies were found at the scene and five people were pulled out of the rubble” alive in the town of Chasiv Yar, the local emergency service said on Facebook.
“At least 30 others are under the rubble” of the four-story building after it was hit by a Russian Uragan missile, Donetsk regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said earlier on Telegram.
The building was partially destroyed in the strike, AFP correspondents saw at the scene where dozens of rescuers were sifting through the rubble with a mechanical digger.
Rescuers had so far been able to establish contact with three people under the rubble, emergency services said.
Having fought long battles to capture the last areas of the neighboring region of Luhansk, Russian troops are now turning their focus to Donetsk as they look to take control of the whole Donbas region.
One Chasiv Yar resident, who did not give her name, showed AFP journalists around the wreckage of her apartment.
“Yesterday, 11 or 10 o’clock in the evening, I was in the bedroom, and when I was leaving, everything started thundering and cracking…,” she said.
“The only thing that saved me was when I ran here, because immediately afterward all of this crashed down.”
Another woman who had ventured inside to see what she could salvage from her apartment retrieved a blue bird, still perched in its cage.
Looking down from her balcony, where her pet had escaped the blast, she lifted up the cage with a brief, triumphant flourish.
Hours earlier, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had condemned what he said was Russia’s deliberate shelling of civilian targets.
The Donetsk region was under persistent shelling, while Russian ground attacks were all but paused, the Ukrainian army general staff said Sunday.
Ukraine’s forces had hit a Russian base in the occupied southern region of Kherson, they added, without elaborating.
On Saturday, three people were killed and 23 wounded by shelling in Donetsk, governor Kyrylenko said.
Strikes were also reported in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second city in the northeast, where a “teaching establishment” and a house were hit, wounding one, according to regional governor Oleg Sinegubov.
Zelensky condemned the widespread Russian bombardments in an address Saturday night.
“In just one day, Russia hit Mykolaiv, Kharkiv, Kryvyi Rih, the communities of the Zaporizhzhia region,” Zelensky said.
Russian strikes “absolutely deliberately” and “purposefully” targeted the residential sector, hitting “ordinary houses, civilian objects, people,” he said.
“Such terrorist actions can really only be stopped with weapons, modern and powerful,” Zelensky added, thanking the United States for its latest military aid package.
Washington has signed off on a $400-million package, including four additional High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems to add to eight already in place and high-precision artillery ammunition not previously sent to Ukraine.
“It’s a further evolution in our support for Ukraine in this battle in the Donbas,” a senior defense official was quoted by the U.S. Department of Defense as saying.
On Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Russia’s restriction on Ukrainian grain exports may have contributed to turmoil in Sri Lanka triggered by severe shortages of food and fuel.
“We’re seeing the impact of this Russian aggression playing out everywhere,” Blinken told reporters in Bangkok.
Renewing a demand that he has made repeatedly, Blinken called on Russia to let an estimated 20 million tons of grain leave Ukraine, which Moscow invaded in February.
Russian officials in the eastern Ukrainian region of Kharkiv meanwhile announced the start of the harvest “in the liberated territories of the region,” Russian news agency RIA Novosti announced Sunday.
Ukraine has repeatedly accused Russia of having stolen its wheat harvest in the occupied eastern regions, to illegally sell it on the international market.
Russia continued its crackdown on news coverage critical of its conduct in the war, blocking the website of the German daily Die Welt Sunday, the latest in a growing list.
Since the start of the Russian military operation in Ukraine, the German newspaper has published content in Russian.
Canada agreed Saturday to deliver to Germany turbines needed to maintain the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline, despite sanctions in place against Russia and appeals from Ukraine.
The turbines were undergoing maintenance at a Canadian site owned by German industrial giant Siemens, and Gazprom blamed its absence for cuts to deliveries via the pipeline, raising fears of a gas shortage in Germany.
Canada also announced on Saturday its intention to extend economic sanctions against Russia to industrial manufacturing.