© Reuters. A firefighter works at a site of an apartment building heavily damaged by a Russian missile strike, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Kryvyi Rih, Ukraine July 31, 2023. Press service of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine/Handout via REUTERS
By Pavel Polityuk
KYIV (Reuters) – A 10-year-old girl and her mother were among four civilians killed in a Russian air strike on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s home town on Monday, officials said, while his forces reported new incremental gains along the front line.
Zelenskiy, who had described Sunday as “a good day, a powerful day” at the front, said Monday’s Russian strikes had hit a residential and a university building in Kryvyi Rih, the steel city where he grew up, far from the front line.
“This terror will not frighten us or break us. We are working and saving our people,” he said on the Telegram app.
A senior defence official said earlier that Ukrainian forces had recaptured nearly 15 square km (5.8 sq miles) of land over the past week from Russian troops, who occupy almost a fifth of Ukraine in its east and south.
The gains make a total of more than 200 sq km retaken in the south since the Ukrainians launched a major Western-backed push against Russian forces early last month, Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Maliar said on the Telegram messaging app.
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu told a military conference Ukraine was “desperately hurling new forces” into attacks on Russian positions, but had failed to advance and was wasting billions of dollars of Western weaponry.
Reuters could not immediately verify either side’s report.
In Kryvyi Rih, smoke billowed from a gaping hole smashed in the side of a nine-storey residential building, and another four-storey building was almost levelled, video footage posted by Zelenskiy showed.
Emergency services said at least 43 people had been wounded.
“Tragic news. Four people have already died in Kryvyi Rih,” Serhiy Lysak, the regional governor, wrote on Telegram. The city’s mayor Oleksandr Vilkul said they included a girl, 10 and her 45-year-old mother and there could be as many as eight people trapped under the rubble.
Two more civilians were reported killed in the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson, now on the front line after being recaptured from Russian forces in November.
An early-morning rocket attack killed a 60-year-old utility worker and wounded four others as they were out on the street doing their jobs, the regional military administration said.
A 65-year-old man driving his car was badly wounded in the second strike and died as an acquaintance tried to rush him to hospital, regional governor Oleksandr Prokudin said on Telegram.
In Ukraine’s Russian-occupied eastern Donetsk region, the Russian-installed governor said two people had been killed and four injured in Ukrainian shelling of what he said was a civilian bus in Donetsk city, the regional capital.
There was no comment from Russia or Ukraine on the other side’s reported civilian casualties.
Russian forces have levelled residential areas across eastern and southern Ukraine since they invaded more than 17 months ago. They conducted systematic strikes on Ukraine’s power grid over the winter and this month started knocking out its grain export facilities.
Moscow says it does not target civilians in what it calls a special military operation to denazify and demilitarise its neighbour, portraying Ukraine’s moves away from Russia’s orbit towards the European Union and NATO as an existential threat.
Russian territory has been largely untouched by the conflict, beyond sporadic drone and missile strikes on oil and military infrastructure that Moscow has blamed on Ukraine, and brief incursions across one part of their common border.
Ukraine rarely comments on strikes on Russian territory, which have recently begun to include drone attacks on Moscow.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia would take extra measures to defend against such strikes, after drones hit Moscow’s financial district on Sunday. Russia said it had brought down three drones and no one was hurt.
Ukraine did not directly claim responsibility for the attack but Zelenskiy said the war was “gradually returning to Russia’s territory – to its symbolic centres”.
His government, which calls Russia’s invasion an imperial-style land grab, has reported slow but steady progress in its counteroffensive, saying that Russian mines and fortifications along the front line are proving a challenge.
A senior Ukrainian official reported heavy fighting in the northeast on Sunday, with Kyiv’s forces holding their lines and making gains in some areas. Russia’s military said it had halted Ukrainian forces in the region.