Dozens of civilians were reportedly killed or injured after a Russian missile hit a crowded shopping mall in the central Ukrainian city of Kremenchuk, officials said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a Telegram post that the number of casualties was “unimaginable”, citing reports that more than 1,000 civilians were inside at the time of the attack.
Minutes later, Kyryl Tymoshenko, deputy head of the presidential office, said in a Telegram post that at least two people had died and around 20 were injured, nine of them in serious condition.
Mr Zelenskyy said the target posed “no threat to the Russian military” and had “no strategic value”.
He accused Russia of sabotaging “people’s attempts to lead normal lives, which makes the occupiers so angry.”
The strike came a day after Russia attacked the Ukrainian capital Kyiv for the first time in weeks, with missiles hitting at least two residential buildings.
Meanwhile, Russia is launching an all-out assault on the last Ukrainian stronghold in the eastern Lugansk region, “firing fire” at the city of Lysychansk from the ground and the air, the local governor said.
Serhiy Haidai said Russian forces were pounding Lysychansk after capturing the nearby town of Sievierodonetsk in recent days.
It’s part of a beefed-up Russian offensive to wrest the wider Donbass region from Ukrainian government control in what Western experts say has become the new primary focus of President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine, which is now in its final stages. fifth month.
“They are shooting into the city both from the air and from the ground. After the capture of Sievierodonetsk, the enemy army concentrated all its forces on capturing (our) last stronghold in the Luhansk region: Lysychansk,” Haidai told The Associated Press.
The Russians are trying to blockade the city from the south, “destroying everything their artillery and multiple rocket launchers can reach”, he added.
In recent weeks, Russian troops have captured several villages and towns southeast of Lysychansk and are trying to prevent access to the city from the south.
To the west, the mayor of the city of Sloviansk – potentially the next major battleground – said Russian forces fired cluster munitions at the city after dawn, including one that hit a neighborhood residential.
Authorities said the number of dead and injured remains to be confirmed.
Ukrainian forces have spent weeks consolidating their defenses around Sloviansk, fearing it could be the next big Russian target if Lysychansk falls.
Last week, President Volodymyr Zelensky said Moscow wanted to “capture and completely destroy” Sloviansk.
The shock wave from Monday’s explosion blew out most of the windows of surrounding buildings and the cars parked below, littering the floor with shattered glass.
“Everything is now destroyed. We are the only people still living in this part of the building. There is no electricity,” local resident Valentina Vitkovska said in tears as she spoke of the blast. “I can’t even call to tell others what happened to us.”
Zelensky’s office said at least six civilians had been killed and 31 injured in heavy Russian shelling of various Ukrainian cities in the past 24 hours, including Kyiv and major southern and eastern cities. east of the country.
He said Russian forces fired rockets that killed two people and injured five overnight in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, and continued to target the key southern port of Odessa. A missile attack destroyed residential buildings and injured six people, including a child, he said.
In Lysychansk, at least five high-rise buildings and the last road bridge have been damaged in the past 24 hours, Haidai said. A crucial highway linking the city to government-controlled territory further south was rendered impassable by the bombings.
The shelling is making the evacuation of civilians increasingly difficult, Haidai said. The city had a pre-war population of around 100,000, of whom around a tenth remain.
Analysts say Lysychansk’s location on the banks of the Siverskiy Donets River, as well as its vast area dotted with hills, give the city’s Ukrainian defenders a major advantage.
The river surrounds Lysychansk from the north and east, while the Ukrainian military continues to hold territory west of the city, which it uses to supply arms and humanitarian aid.