Russia unleashed a major missile attack on Ukraine on Saturday, smashing a nine-storey apartment block in the city of Dnipro, killing at least five people and striking vital energy facilities, officials said.
Ukraine’s energy minister said the coming days would be “difficult” as months of Russian bombardment of the power grid threaten the supply of electricity, running water and central heating at the height of winter.
In the east-central city of Dnipro, 20 people were rescued from an apartment block where an entire section of the building had been reduced to rubble, sending smoke billowing into the sky, the deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential office said.
“Tragedy. I’ve gone to the site…. We will be going through the rubble all night,” said Borys Filatov, mayor of the rocket-making city on the Dnipro River.
Five people were killed and at least 60 people, including 12 children, were also wounded in the attack, with more people were still trapped under the rubble, the regional governor said.
Another person was killed and one wounded in the steel-making city of Kryviy Rih where six houses were damaged in President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s hometown, mayor Oleksandr Vilkul said.
In his nightly speech, Zelenskiy appealed to the West to supply more weapons to prevent further deaths from what he described as “Russian terror”.
“What’s needed for this? The kind of weapons that our partners have in stockpiles and that our warriors have come to expect. The whole world knows what and how to stop those who are sowing death,” he said.
Saturday’s attack comes as Western powers consider sending battle tanks to Kyiv and ahead of a meeting of Ukraine’s allies in Ramstein in Germany next Friday where governments will announce their latest pledges of military support.
On the front lines in the east, Ukraine said its forces were battling to hold onto control of the small town of Soledar where Russia has sacrificed large numbers of troops and resources to try to secure some kind of advance after months of setbacks.
In Dnipro, pictures showed firefighters putting out a blaze around the carcasses of some cars. A broad chunk of the apartment block was missing. The exterior of the rest of the building was badly damaged. Wounded people were carried away on stretchers.
Russia, which invaded Ukraine last February, has been pounding its energy infrastructure with missiles and drones since October, causing sweeping blackouts and disruptions to central heating and running water.
Ukraine shot down 25 of 38 Russian missiles of different types, the Air Force said.
Missiles struck critical infrastructure facilities in the eastern region of Kharkiv and the western region of Lviv, officials said. Kharkiv region lost power completely and disruptions to electricity and water supplies in Lviv were also possible, officials said.
Moldova’s interior ministry said missile debris had been found in the north of the country near the Ukraine border following the air strikes.
The attack on Saturday came hours after a smaller-scale missile attack hit critical infrastructure in Kyiv and the eastern city of Kharkiv.
The first attack was unusual because missiles struck their targets before the air raid siren even sounded. No one was reported hurt then, but missile debris caused a fire in one area and houses were damaged outside the capital, officials said.
DTEK, the biggest private electricity company, introduced emergency blackouts in several regions.
Residential infrastructure was also hit in the village of Kopyliv outside the capital. The windows and roofs of 18 privately owned houses were shattered or damaged by the blast, Oleksiy Kuleba, the regional governor, said.
Commenting on the first attack, Air Force spokesperson Yuriy Ihnat said Russia’s missiles had likely been fired along a high, looping ballistic trajectory from the north, which would explain why the air raid siren did not sound.
Ukraine is not able to identify and shoot down ballistic missiles, he told the Ukrainska Pravda online outlet.
In Ukraine’s northeast, two S-300 missiles struck the city of Kharkiv near the Russian border early on Saturday, according to regional governor Oleg Synehubov.
The attacks hit critical energy and industrial targets in the Kharkiv and Chuhuev district of the region, he said.
Saturday’s strikes came as Ukrainian and Russian forces battled for control of Soledar, a small salt-mining town in eastern Ukraine that for days has been the focus of a relentless Russian assault.
Ukraine insisted that its forces were battling to hold onto control of Soledar, but acknowledged the situation was difficult, that street fighting was raging and that Russian forces were advancing from various directions.
Russia said on Friday that its forces had taken control of the town with a pre-war population of 10,000, in what would be a minor advance, but one holding psychological importance for Russian forces who have suffered months of battlefield setbacks.
Reuters could not immediately verify the situation in Soledar.