At least 15 people were killed and two dozen more are feared trapped after Russian Uragan rockets hit a five-story apartment block in Ukraine’s Donetsk region, local officials said on Sunday as rescuers made their way through the rubble.
Ukraine also reported clashes with Russian troops on the eastern and southern fronts, while Moscow said its forces attacked Ukrainian army hangars storing US-made M777 howitzers, a type of artillery, near Kostyantynivka in the Donetsk region. .
Donetsk Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said that the strike at the apartment building took place on Saturday night in the city of Chasiv Yar. The regional emergency service gave the death toll at 3 p.m. Sunday and added that 24 more people could still be under the rubble.
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“We ran to the basement, there were three impacts, the first somewhere in the kitchen,” said a local resident who identified herself as Ludmila, speaking as rescuers removed a body on a white sheet and cleared debris with a crane, as well as her hands.
“The second, I don’t even remember, there was lightning, we ran to the second entrance and then straight to the basement. We sat there all night until this morning.”
Kyrylenko wrote on Telegram that rescuers in Chasiv Yar had removed nearly 99 tons of rubble from the site where the apartment block collapsed and rescue operations were continuing as of 4:00 p.m. local time (1:00 p.m. GMT).
Andriy Yermak, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s chief of staff, said in a Telegram post that the attack was “another terrorist attack” and that Russia should be designated a state sponsor of terrorism as a result.
Russia, which says it is conducting a “special military operation” to demilitarize Ukraine, denies deliberately targeting civilians.
Lugansk and Donetsk provinces comprise Donbas, the industrial region in eastern Ukraine that has been Europe’s biggest battlefield for generations. Russia wants to wrest control of Donbas on behalf of the separatists it supports.
Moscow says expelling the Ukrainian army from the region is central to its operation to ensure its own security, an offensive that has lasted more than four months and is called by the West an unprovoked war.
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Russian forces attacked Ukrainian positions near the Donetsk city of Sloviansk but were forced to withdraw, Ukraine’s military said, adding that Russian forces had launched a cruise missile attack on the northeastern city of Kharkiv since its border side. He did not give details of damage or casualties.
Luhansk region governor Serhiy Gaidai said Russian forces were massing in the Bilohorivka village area, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) east of Sloviansk.
“The enemy is… shelling the surrounding settlements, carrying out air strikes, but they still cannot quickly occupy the entire Lugansk region,” he said on Telegram.
Russia claimed control of the entire Luhansk province last weekend.
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Russia’s Defense Ministry said its forces had destroyed two hangars near the Donetsk town of Kostyantynivka containing US-made M777 howitzers, which it said had been used to shell residential areas of Donetsk.
Russian news agencies quoted separatist officials as saying on Sunday that Ukraine’s military had been shelling Donetsk with NATO-standard 155mm artillery since morning, wounding two residents.
Reuters was unable to independently verify the battlefield accounts.
Ukrainian military spokesmen were not immediately available for comment.
Ukrainian forces have mounted stiff resistance and the West has imposed sweeping sanctions on Russia in an effort to force it to withdraw.
In the south, Ukrainian forces fired missiles and artillery at Russian positions, including ammunition depots in the Chornobaivka area, Ukraine’s military command said.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, on a trip to Asia, urged the international community to join forces to condemn Russian aggression. He said that he had expressed concern to his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, about Beijing’s alignment with Moscow.
The two met for more than five hours on the sidelines of a G20 foreign ministers meeting on the Indonesian island of Bali. Russia’s Sergei Lavrov walked out of a meeting there on Friday, denouncing the West for “frantic criticism.”
Shortly before the Russian invasion, Beijing and Moscow announced a “no-holds-barred” partnership, though US officials have said they have not seen China evade US sanctions on Russia or provide it with military equipment.
Zelenskiy fired several of Ukraine’s top envoys abroad on Saturday, saying it was part of “normal diplomatic practice.” He said that he would appoint new ambassadors to Germany, India, the Czech Republic, Norway and Hungary.
Zelenskiy has urged his diplomats to get international support and high-end weapons to stem Russia’s advance.
Ukraine suffered a diplomatic setback on Saturday, when Canada said it would return a repaired turbine that Russian state-controlled Gazprom used to supply Germany with natural gas. Ukraine had argued that a return would violate sanctions on Russia.