Russian attacks ravaged cities across Ukraine on Friday, killing 26 people including five children, as Kiev said preparations for a counteroffensive against Moscow forces were almost complete.
The deadly new attacks included a strike at a block of flats in the historic city of Uman in central Ukraine, where AFP journalists watched rescue workers remove the remains of victims from a destroyed apartment building.
The overnight barrage of nearly two dozen missiles ended a week-long lull following repeated Russian attacks aimed at crippling Ukraine’s energy grid during the winter months.
On Friday night, workers in Uman, site of an annual Hasidic pilgrimage, pulled the body of another child from under the rubble. Authorities said Russian cruise missiles killed 23 people, including four children, in Uman.
“I want to see my children, they are under the rubble,” said Dmitry, a 33-year-old local from Lugansk, an eastern city under Russian control, earlier in the day.
Rescue workers used cranes to search for survivors under the remains of the multi-storey apartment block in the city center of 80,000 inhabitants.
“I’ve seen a lot, but I’ve never lost my children. Now I want to see my children alive or dead,” Dmitry said.
Russian missiles also hit downtown Dnipro, already wracked with grief after an attack on a high-rise building in January that killed more than 40 people.
Authorities said a 31-year-old woman and her two-year-old daughter were killed in their sleep during the strikes in Dnipro.
The young woman’s parents were taken to the hospital.
“Neighbors say it was a quiet and friendly family,” regional authorities said.
Separately, authorities in the southern Kherson region said Friday night that Russian forces shelled the village of Bilozerka, killing a 57-year-old woman and wounding three others.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy condemned the recent barrage and announced a response.
“Only absolute evil can unleash such terror against Ukraine,” he said in his evening address.
His advisor Mykhaylo Podolyak tweeted: “If you don’t want THIS to spread around the world then give us guns. Lots of guns. And add sanctions.”
Moscow said it had targeted reserve units of the Ukrainian military and “all assigned targets were hit”.
Moscow-based officials in eastern Ukraine said Ukrainian shelling killed nine people, including an eight-year-old girl in the city of Donetsk.
– ‘We are ready’ –
No casualties were reported in Kiev, which was among the cities attacked on Friday.
The capital had not been hit by missiles for more than 50 days, although it was attacked by 12 Iranian-made drones last week, eight of which were shot down without casualties.
Ukraine said it shot down a total of 21 out of 23 Russian missiles and two attack drones.
The country’s air defense system has been bolstered in recent months with the delivery of Western equipment vital to the country’s war effort.
The fresh attacks came as Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said his country’s preparations to fight back against deadlocked Russian positions were almost complete.
NATO allies and partners have provided Ukraine with 1,550 armored vehicles and 230 tanks to form units and help it retake territory from Russian forces, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said on Thursday.
“Equipment is promised, prepared and partially delivered. In a global sense, we are ready,” said Reznikov.
Kiev has said during the war Russia started in February 2022 that it intends to repel Moscow forces from areas in eastern and southern Ukraine that it controls.
“Preparations are coming to an end,” Reznikov added of the planned offensive.
– ‘Only way to survive’ –
“As soon as God’s will, the weather and the decision of the commanders – we will do it.”
Most of the fighting was concentrated in the eastern Donbass region, particularly the almost completely destroyed city of Bakhmut.
Several Ukrainian soldiers told the AFP news agency that not only members of the Wagner mercenary group but also Russian special forces were involved in the fierce clashes in Bakhmut.
Not far from Bakhmut, Alex, 34, said the situation was difficult.
“We lack soldiers, we have many wounded and dead,” he said.
“Sometimes you have to hide behind a corpse in the trenches,” he said. “It’s the only way to survive.”
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin said Friday he had paid a rare visit to the embattled city and vowed Moscow will rebuild it.
Moscow needs allies to support its protracted war effort and has nurtured its ties with China.
Leaders of Ukraine and China spoke by phone this week, with Chinese President Xi Jinping reportedly endorsing peace talks.
The discussion between Xi and Zelenskyy on Wednesday was accompanied by Russian accusations that Ukraine was undermining efforts to end the fighting.
Zelenskyy said Friday he had asked Xi to help bring back Ukrainian children deported from Russia.
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and was published by a syndicated feed.)
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