At least 15 people have died and dozens were injured after a series of rockets fired by Russian forces hit a five-storey apartment building in the town of Chasiv Yar in eastern Ukraine, as Moscow was accused of raising “true hell” in Donbas, stepping up the assault on the city of Sloviansk.
Earlier in the morning, Pavlo Kyrylenko, the governor of the Donetsk region, said on Telegram that more than 24 people could be trapped under the rubble of the apartment block, as rescue operations were still under way.
Andriy Yermak, the chief of staff to Ukraine’s president, said the strike was “another terrorist attack” and that Russia should be designated as a “state sponsor of terrorism” as a result.
According to Kyiv, the building was hit by Russian Uragan rockets fired from truck-borne systems.
The Ukrainian emergency services initially gave a death toll of 10, but later revised the figure to 15.
Five people have been recovered from the rubble, while the emergency services said rescuers were in verbal contact with three other people under the ruins.
“We ran to the basement, there were three hits, the first somewhere in the kitchen,” a resident, Ludmila, 24, told Reuters. “The second, I do not even remember, there was lightning, we ran towards the second entrance and then straight into the basement. We sat there all night until this morning.”
The Saturday night rocket assault is the latest in a recent burst of high-casualty attacks on civilian structures.
On 28 June, at least 19 people died after a Russian missile hit a crowded shopping centre in the central Ukrainian city of Kremenchuk, and another 21, including two children, were killed on 1 July when two Russian missiles struck a multi-storey block of flats and a recreation centre in a small coastal town near Odesa.
Russia has repeatedly claimed that it is hitting only targets of military value in the war. There was no comment on Chasiv Yar at a Russian defence ministry briefing on Sunday.
Chasiv Yar, population 12,000, is about 12 miles south-east of Kramatorsk, a city that is expected to be the next focus of the fighting.
Moscow is grinding westward after having captured the Luhansk region, which along with Donetsk makes up the eastern Donbas.
Kyrylenko said on Saturday that Russia was shelling the Ukrainian-controlled town of Sloviansk “day and night”. The area has been under constant Russian artillery bombardment from around Izium to the north and near Lysychansk to the east. The update added that the E40 – the main road linking Donetsk and Kharkiv – is likely to be an important objective for Russian forces as they advance through the Donetsk region.
Sloviansk had a population of 107,000 before the war. Despite the threat of a Russian attack, thousands remained, reluctant to abandon their homes despite being just a few miles from the frontlines.
According to the governor, 591 civilians have been killed and 1,548 injured so far in the Donetsk region since the Russian invasion began on 24 February.
Despite assessments by foreign analysts suggesting that Russia may be temporarily easing its offensive in eastern Ukraine and trying to reassemble its forces for a decisive new assault, the governor of Luhansk, Serhiy Haidai, said on Saturday that Moscow is raising “true hell” in the Donbas.
“We are trying to contain the Russians’ armed formations along the entire frontline,” he said. “So far, there has been no operational pause announced by the enemy. He is still attacking and shelling our lands with the same intensity as before.”
Meanwhile, Ukraine has warned residents in southern Kherson and Zaporizhzhia to evacuate as it prepares to launch a counteroffensive to retake the area. The Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions were quickly occupied by Russian troops in late February after they crossed the bridge from Russia-annexed Crimea.
After the Russians captured the Luhansk region, local authorities in Mykolaiv, in the south of Ukraine, and Zaporizhzhia are bracing for an intensification of attacks.
Late on Friday night, Iryna Vereshchuk, the deputy prime minister for the ministry of reintegration of temporarily occupied territories, called on Ukrainians in the occupied territories to leave by “all means possible”.
“You must look for a way to leave because our armed forces will de-occupy. There will be a huge battle. I don’t want to scare anyone, everyone understands everything anyway,” said Vereshchuk. She said that evacuations were taking place and that people in the occupied territories were aware.
“The battle over the south of Ukraine is still ahead of us and this is inevitable,” Roman Kostenko said, a member of Ukraine’s parliament and a special forces commander who on day one of the war swapped his suit and tie for a uniform and hurried to Mykolaiv’s frontline. Mykolaiv, which borders the vital Black Sea port of Odesa, is regarded by Moscow as a strategic target to reach its goal to annex Ukraine’s Black Sea coast, making Ukraine a landlocked country.
“The Kremlin’s primary target was to take over the south and the east, and to return Ukraine into its sphere of influence,” said Kostenko. “But we didn’t let them, and that’s why they had to alter their plans and concentrate their major force in the east. Their target is to take our sea away from us. They announced that these are their ‘indigenous territories’. They will try to reach the Transnistria border because Russia created many of those quasi-republics such as DNR, LNR, Abkhazia, South Osetia and Transnistria. They are trying to connect them.’’
Six rockets were fired on the city of Mykolaiv early on Saturday morning, according to its mayor, Oleksandr Sienkovych. The rockets hit residential buildings and private houses but luckily no one was injured, he said.
In the north-eastern city of Kharkiv, a Russian rocket hit a residential building, injuring at least six people, according to regional authorities.
The birthplace of Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Kryvyi Rig – an industrial city in the centre of the country – was among the areas targeted.
However, over the last week, Ukraine has reported dozens of successful strikes on Russian command posts, which include ammunition depots. It is not yet clear if the rate at which Ukraine is destroying Russian ammunition is enough to significantly hinder their advance.
Pointing to their successes, Zelenskiy pleaded with the US for more high-mobility artillery rocket systems (Himars), saying they were what had helped Ukraine “press the enemy”. Hours later the US president, Joe Biden, signed a weapons package for Ukraine worth up to $400m, bringing Ukraine’s total of Himars systems to at least 12.