Russian airstrikes hit towns across Ukraine on Friday, killing 26 people including five children, as kyiv said preparations for a counter-offensive against Moscow’s forces were nearing completion.
Among the new deadly attacks was a strike against a residential building in the historic city of Uman in central Ukraine, where AFP journalists saw rescuers extracting the remains of victims from a destroyed residential building .
The barrage of nearly two dozen missiles overnight ended a week-long hiatus after repeated Russian strikes aimed to cripple Ukraine’s energy grid during the winter months.
On Friday evening, workers in Uman, the site of an annual Hasidic pilgrimage, pulled the body of another child from 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,” Dmitry, a 33-year-old resident of Lugansk, a Russian-controlled eastern city, said earlier in the day.
Rescuers were using cranes to search for survivors among the remains of the multi-storey housing block in the central city of 80,000 people.
“I’ve seen a lot, but I’ve never lost my children before. Now I want to see my children alive or dead,” Dmitry said.
Russian missiles also hit the central city of Dnipro, already stricken after a January strike on a tower that killed more than 40 people.
Authorities said strikes in Dnipro killed a 31-year-old woman and her two-year-old daughter in their sleep.
The parents of the young woman were hospitalized.
“Neighbors say it was a quiet, kind family,” regional authorities said.
Separately, authorities in the southern region of Kherson said late Friday that Russian forces shelled the village of Bilozerka, killing a 57-year-old woman and injuring three others.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky condemned the latest barrage and promised a response.
“Only absolute evil can unleash such terror against Ukraine,” he said in his evening speech.
His adviser Mykhaylo Podolyak tweeted: “If you don’t want THIS to spread in the world, then give us arms. Lots of weapons. And add penalties.
Moscow said it targeted Ukrainian army reserve units and that “all assigned objects were hit”.
Officials based in Moscow 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 Kyiv, which was among the cities targeted on Friday.
The capital had not been hit by missiles for more than 50 days, although last week it was attacked by 12 Iranian-made drones, eight of which were shot down without causing any casualties.
Ukraine said in total it shot down 21 of 23 Russian missiles and two attack drones.
The country’s air defense system has been bolstered in recent months by the delivery of Western equipment crucial to the country’s war effort.
The new strikes came as Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said his country’s preparations to push back entrenched Russian positions were nearly complete.
NATO allies and partners have provided Ukraine with 1,550 armored vehicles and 230 tanks to train units and help it retake territory from Russian forces, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said on Thursday.
“The material has been promised, prepared and partially delivered. In a global sense, we are ready,” Reznikov said.
Kiev has declared throughout the war launched by Russia in February 2022 that it intends to push back Moscow’s forces from the territory they control in eastern and southern Ukraine.
“Preparations are coming to an end,” Reznikov added of the planned offensive.
– ‘Only way to survive’ –
“As soon as there is the will of God, the weather and the decision of the commanders, we will do it.”
Most of the fighting was concentrated in the eastern region of Donbass, in particular the city of Bakhmut, which was almost completely destroyed.
Several Ukrainian soldiers told AFP that tough clashes in Bakhmut involved not only members of the Wagner mercenary group but also Russian special forces.
Not far from Bakhmut, Alex, 34, said the situation was difficult.
“We are short of soldiers, we have a lot of wounded, and also dead,” he said.
“Sometimes in the trenches you have to hide behind a corpse,” he says. “It’s the only way to survive.”
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin said on Friday he had paid a rare visit to the beleaguered city and promised that Moscow would rebuild it.
Needing allies to support its endless war effort, Moscow cultivated its relations with China.
The Ukrainian and Chinese leaders spoke by phone this week, with Chinese President Xi Jinping reportedly advocating peace talks.
Xi and Zelensky’s discussion on Wednesday was met with Russian accusations that Ukraine was undermining efforts to end the fighting.
Zelensky said on Friday he had asked Xi to help bring back Ukrainian children deported by Russia.
(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)
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