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Russia-Ukraine war: Missile strikes kill at least 23 civilians, wounds more than 100

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Yuliia Paievskak known throughout Ukraine as Taira had recorded harrowing footage from besieged Mariupol before being captured by Russian forces. Video / AP

Russian missiles have struck a city in central Ukraine, killing at least 23 people and wounding more than 100 others, Ukrainian authorities said.

Ukraine’s president alleged the attack deliberately targeted civilians in locations without military value.

Officials said Kalibr cruise missiles fired from a Russian submarine in the Black Sea struck civilian buildings in Vinnytsia, a city 268km southwest of the capital, Kyiv.

Vinnytsia region governor Serhiy Borzov said Ukrainian air defences downed two of the four Russian missiles that were launched.

A firefighter stands among the damage in Vinnytsia. Photo / Ukrainian Emergency Service via AP
A firefighter stands among the damage in Vinnytsia. Photo / Ukrainian Emergency Service via AP

National Police Chief Ihor Klymenko said only six bodies have been identified so far, while 39 people are still missing. Three children were among the dead. Of the 65 people taken to hospital, five remain in critical condition while 34 sustained severe injuries, Ukraine’s State Emergency Service said.

“There was a building of a medical organisation. When the first rocket hit it, glass fell from my windows,” said Vinnytsia resident Svitlana Kubas, 74. “And when the second wave came, it was so deafening that my head is still buzzing. It tore out the very outermost door, tore it right through the holes.”

Along with hitting buildings, the missiles ignited a fire that spread to 50 cars in a parking lot, officials said.

“These are quite high-precision missiles … They knew where they were hitting,” Borzov told the AP.

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, Netherlands, to discuss coordinating investigations and prosecutions of potential war crimes committed in Ukraine.

Rescuers work on a scene of building damaged by shelling, in Vinnytsia, Ukraine. Photo / Ukrainian Emergency Service via AP
Rescuers work on a scene of building damaged by shelling, in Vinnytsia, Ukraine. Photo / Ukrainian Emergency Service via AP

“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.

Ukrainian Interior Minister Denys Monastyrsky echoed Zelenskyy, calling the missile attack a “war crime” intended to intimidate Ukrainians while the country’s forces hold out in the east.

The US embassy in Kyiv issued a security alert urging all US citizens remaining in Ukraine to leave immediately. The alert, which appeared to be in response to the Vinnytsia attack, asserted that large gatherings and organised events “may serve as Russian military targets anywhere in Ukraine, including its western regions”.

Vinnytsia is one of Ukraine’s largest cities, with a pre-war population of 370,000. Thousands of people from eastern Ukraine, where Russia has concentrated its offensive, have fled there since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24.

Firefighters work to extinguish a fire at a building damaged by shelling in Vinnytsia. Photo / Ukrainian Emergency Service via AP
Firefighters work to extinguish a fire at a building damaged by shelling in Vinnytsia. Photo / Ukrainian Emergency Service via AP

Kateryna Popova said she saw many injured people lying on the street after the missiles struck. Popova had fled from Kharkiv in March in search of safety in “quiet” Vinnytsia. But the missile attack changed all that.

“We did not expect this. Now we feel like we don’t have a home again,” she said.

Borzov said 36 houses were damaged and residents have been evacuated while a 24-hour hotline has been set up for information on those injured or missing. July 14 will be declared as a day of mourning, he said.

Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said the attack mirrors previous ones on residential areas that Moscow has 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 of 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 few days.

Russian forces also continued artillery and missile attacks in eastern Ukraine, primarily in Donetsk province after overtaking the adjacent Luhansk region. The city of Lysychansk, the last major stronghold of Ukrainian resistance in Luhansk, fell to Russian forces earlier this month.

Vehicles damaged by shelling in Vinnytsia, Photo / Ukrainian Emergency Service via AP
Vehicles damaged by shelling in Vinnytsia, Photo / Ukrainian Emergency Service via AP

Luhansk and Donetsk together make up the Donbas, a mostly Russian-speaking region of steel factories, mines and other industries that powered Ukraine’s economy.

Donetsk governor Pavlo Kyrylenko, meanwhile, 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.”

On the battlefront, Russian 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.

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 now, as is most of neighbouring 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.

• Russia’s parliamentary speaker has visited separatist-held areas in eastern Ukraine as Kremlin-installed officials in the country’s south announced they would hold a referendum on joining Russia. According to Russian news agencies, Vyacheslav Volodin spoke of the need to harmonise legislation between Russia and the self-proclaimed “Luhansk People’s Republic” in his address to the territory’s self-proclaimed legislative assembly. He said Moscow and the separatists need to “create a single legal field” in the areas of health care, education, public utilities and social protections.

• Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed into law a bill banning the dissemination of information on Russian companies and individuals who could face international sanctions. The law explicitly bans from internet or media publication – without written permission – any information about transactions made or planned by Russian individuals or legal entities participating in foreign economic activity. It also suspends for three years the obligatory publication of key financial and governance information by major Russian state corporations.

– AP

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