By MARIA GRAZIA MURRU and HANNA ARHIROVA
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian missiles that struck a city in central Ukraine killed at least 21 people and wounded about more than 100 Thursday, Ukrainian authorities said. Ukraine’s president alleged the attack deliberately targeted civilians in locations without military value.
Ukraine’s national police said three missiles hit an office building and damaged nearby residential buildings in Vinnytsia, which is located 268 kilometers (167 miles) southwest of the capital, Kyiv. The Ukrainian Emergency Service said 42 were missing after the airstrike.
A Russian submarine in the Black Sea fired Kalibr cruise missiles at the city, and three children were among the dead, the deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential office, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, wrote on the Telegram messaging app.
Russia hasn’t officially confirmed the strike. But Margarita Simonyan, head of the state-controlled Russian television network RT, said on her messaging app channel that military officials told her a building in Vinnytsia was targeted because it housed Ukrainian “Nazis.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused Russia of intentionally aiming missiles at civilians. The strike happened as government officials from about 40 countries met in The Hague to discuss coordinating investigations and prosecutions of potential war crimes committed in Ukraine.
“Every day Russia is destroying the civilian population, killing Ukrainian children, directing missiles at civilian objects. Where there is no military (targets). What is it if not an open act of terrorism?” Zelenskyy wrote on Telegram.
Vinnytsia is one of Ukraine’s largest cities, with a prewar population of 370,000. Thousands of people from eastern Ukraine, where Russia has concentrated its offensive, have fled there since the start of the war 20 weeks ago.
Along with hitting buildings, the missiles ignited a fire that spread to 50 cars in a parking lot, officials said. The governor of the Vinnytsia region, Serhiy Borzov, said Ukrainian air defense systems shot down another four missiles over the the city.
Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said he thinks the attack mirrors previous ones on residential areas that Moscow launched “to try to pressure Kyiv to make some concessions.”
“Russia has used the same tactics when it hit the Odesa region, Kremenchuk, Chasiv Yar and other areas,” Zhdanov said. “The Kremlin wants to show that it will keep using unconventional methods of war and kill civilians in defiance to Kyiv and the entire international community.”
Before the missiles hit Vinnytsia, the president’s office reported the deaths of five civilians and the wounding of another eight in Russian attacks over the past day.
One person was wounded when a missile damaged several buildings in the southern city of Mykolaiv early Thursday, Ukrainian authorities said. A missile attack on Wednesday killed at least five people in the city.
Russian forces also continued artillery and missile attacks in eastern Ukraine, primarily in Donetsk province after overtaking adjacent Luhansk. The city of Lysychansk, the last major stronghold of Ukrainian resistance in Luhansk, fell to Russian forces at the beginning of the month.
Luhansk and Donetsk together make up the Donbas, a mostly Russian-speaking region of steel factories, mines and other industries.
Donetsk Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko urged residents to evacuate as “quickly as possible.”
“We are urging civilians to leave the region, where electricity, water and gas are in short supply after the Russian shelling,” Kyrylenko said in televised remarks. “The fighting is intensifying, and people should stop risking their lives and leave the region.”
The British Defense Ministry said Thursday that despite continued shelling in the Donbas region, Russian forces did not make major territorial gains in recent days.
“The aging vehicles, weapons and Soviet-era tactics used by Russian forces do not lend themselves to quickly regaining or building momentum unless used in overwhelming mass – which Russia is currently unable to bring to bear,” the British ministry said.
Both the Russian forces and Ukrainian militaries are seeking to replenish their depleted stocks of unmanned aerial vehicles to pinpoint enemy positions and guide artillery strikes.
Both sides are looking to procure jamming-resistant, advanced drones that could offer a decisive edge in battle. Ukrainian officials say the demand for such technology is “immense” with crowdfunding efforts underway to raise the necessary cash for purchases.
In other developments:
— Russian-installed officials in southeastern Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia region announced that they planned to hold an early September referendum on incorporating the region into Russia. Large parts of Zaporizhzhia are under Russian control, as is most of neighboring Kherson. Kremlin-backed administrations in both areas have declared their intentions to become part of Russia. Separatist leaders in the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk “republics” have also announced similar plans.
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