Russia rained missiles near Ukraine’s Black Sea port of Odesa on Friday, hitting an apartment building and a resort and killing at least 19 people, Ukrainian officials said, hours after Russian troops were driven off the nearby Snake Island.
One section of a nine-storey apartment block was completely destroyed by a missile that struck at 1am The walls and windows of a neighbouring, 14-storey apartment block had also been damaged by the blast wave. Residents were helping rescue workers comb the rubble.
“We came here to the site, assessed the situation together with emergency workers and locals, and together helped those who survived. And those who unfortunately died. We helped to carry them away, said Oleksandr Abramov, who lives nearby and had rushed to the scene when he heard the blast.
Ukrainian officials said at least 16 people had been killed at the apartment block in the village of Serhiivka, and another three, including one child, in strikes that hit nearby holiday resorts.
The Kremlin denied targeting civilians: “I would like to remind you of the president’s words that the Russian Armed Forces do not work with civilian targets,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
Thousands of civilians have been killed since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb 24 in what Ukraine says is an unprovoked war of aggression. Russia calls the invasion a “special operation” to root out nationalists.
A day earlier, Russia pulled its troops off Snake Island, a desolate but strategically important outcrop that it seized on the war’s first day and has used to control the northwestern Black Sea, where it has blockaded Odesa and other ports.
In his nightly video address, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy hailed what he described as a strategic victory.
“It does not yet guarantee security. It does not yet ensure that the enemy will not come back,” he said. “But this significantly limits the actions of the occupiers. Step by step, we will push them back from our sea, our land and our sky.”
In eastern Ukraine, where Russia is pressing its main ground offensive, Ukrainian forces were holding on to the city of Lysychansk, although officials described it as under ferocious artillery attack.
In Kyiv, Ukrainian lawmakers gave a standing ovation as the flag of the European Union was carried through the chamber to stand alongside Ukraine’s own flag behind the dais, a symbol of Ukraine’s formal EU candidate status granted last week.
The strike on Odesa, using long-range missiles, comes after days in which Russia has escalated such attacks deep in Ukraine, far from front lines, including an attack on Monday that killed at least 19 people in a crowded shopping mall.
Moscow says it is striking military targets. Kyiv calls the attacks war crimes. A Ukrainian general said on Thursday that Russia may be trying to hit military targets but is killing civilians by firing inaccurate, obsolete missiles into populous areas.
Zelenskiy and lawmakers in parliament stood for a minute of silence for those killed in the attacks near Odesa. Reuters could not independently confirm details of the attacks.
Russia has focused its main ground campaign on the east, where it demands Kyiv cede full control of two provinces to pro-Russian separatist proxies.