By CARA ANNA
KRAMATORSK, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian authorities across the country reported new Russian missile strikes and shelling Saturday that killed at least 16 more civilians, deaths that came after Russia’s top military announced it was stepping up its onslaught against its neighbor.
The Russian Defense Ministry said Saturday that Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu gave “instructions to further intensify the actions of units in all operational areas, in order to exclude the possibility of the Kyiv regime launching massive rocket and artillery strikes on civilian infrastructure and residents of settlements in Donbas and other regions.”
The new Russian attacks hit areas in the north, the east and the south of Ukraine. Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, has seen especially severe bombardments in recent days, with Ukrainian officials and local commanders voicing fears that a second full-scale Russian assault on the northern city may be looming.
At least three civilians were killed and three more were injured Saturday in a pre-dawn Russian rocket strike on the northern Ukrainian city of Chuhuiv, which is close to Kharkiv and only 120 kilometers (75 miles) from the Russian border, a regional police chief said.
Serhiy Bolvinov, the deputy head of Kharkiv’s regional police force, said the rockets partly destroyed a two-story apartment building.
“Four Russian rockets, presumably fired from around (the Russian city of) Belgorod at night, at about 3:30 a.m., hit a residential building, a school and administrative buildings,” Bolvinov wrote on Facebook.
“The bodies of three people were found under the rubble. Three more were injured. The victims are civilians,” Bolvinov added.
In the neighboring Sumy region, one civilian was killed and at least seven more were injured after Russians opened mortar and artillery fire on three towns and villages not far from the Russian border, regional governor Dmytro Zhyvytsky said Saturday on Telegram.
In the embattled eastern Donetsk region, seven civilians were killed and 14 wounded in the last 24 hours in attacks on cities, its governor said Saturday morning.
Nearby, however, Ukrainian troops repelled a Russian overnight assault on a strategic eastern highway, said Serhiy Haidai, the governor of the Luhansk region. Haidai said Russia had been attempting to capture the main road link between the cities of Lysychansk and Bakhmut “for more than two months.”
“They still cannot control several kilometers of this road,” Haidai wrote in a Telegram post.
Russia’s military campaign has been focusing on the Donbas, which includes the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, but Russian forces also have been pounding other parts of the country in a relentless push to wrest territory from Ukraine and crush the morale of its leaders, troops and civilians.
In Ukraine’s south, two people were wounded by Russian shelling in the town of Bashtanka, northeast of the Black Sea city of Mykolaiv, according the regional governor, Vitaliy Kim.
Kim said Mykolaiv itself also came under renewed Russian fire before dawn. On Friday, he had posted videos of what he said was a Russian missile attack on the city’s two largest universities and denounced Russia as “a terrorist state.”
Two people were killed and a woman was hospitalized after a Russian rocket strike on the eastern riverside city of Nikopol, emergency services said. Dnipropetrovsk governor Valentyn Reznichenko said on Telegram that a five-story apartment block, a school and a vocational school building were damaged.
On Friday, cruise missiles fired by Russian strategic bombers struck the southeastern Ukrainian city of Dnipro, killing at least three people and wounding 16, Ukrainian officials said.
In a regular press briefing Saturday, Russian defense officials claimed that strike had destroyed “workshops producing components for, and repairing, Tochka-U ballistic missiles, as well as multiple rocket launchers.” Spokesman Igor Konashenkov did not respond to Ukrainian allegations that the strike had killed civilians.
The deadliest Russian attack this week hit Thursday, when a Russian missile strike killed at least 23 people — including three children — and wounded more than 200 in Vinnytsia, a city southwest of Kyiv, the capital, far from the front lines.
Russia said the Kalibr cruise missiles hit a “military facility” that was hosting a meeting between Ukrainian air force command and foreign weapons suppliers. Ukrainian authorities insisted the site had nothing to do with the military.
Ukraine’s Interior Ministry said Friday that Russian forces have conducted more than 17,000 strikes on civilian targets during the war, killing thousands of fighters and civilians and driving millions from their homes.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has also rippled through the world economy, hiking energy and food prices and crimping exports of key Ukrainian and Russian products such as grain, fuel and fertilizer.
Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine