VINNYTSIA, Ukraine – A volley of Russian cruise missiles hit a shopping mall, dance studio and wedding venue in Vinnytsia, central Ukraine, on Thursday, killing at least 23 people and sparking a frantic search for dozens others lost in the rubble. the last strike to hit a civilian area away from the front lines.
The US Embassy in Kyiv issued a security alert late Thursday urging all US citizens remaining in Ukraine to leave immediately. The alert, which appeared to be a response to the day’s attack, claimed that large gatherings and organized events “could serve as Russian military targets anywhere in Ukraine, including its western regions”.
Three children were among the dead in Vinnytsia, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office said. The attack involved three Kalibr cruise missiles which struck the city around 10:30 a.m. and were launched from a submarine in the Black Sea, his office said.
More than 70 people, including three children, were hospitalized after the missiles hit the center of a typically sleepy provincial capital about 200 miles from the coast, and left behind a harrowing scene of smoldering ruins.
Grooms once carried their brides out of the wedding hall, a well-known local landmark, and a building next door was the site of a photography studio where a steady stream of children had their pictures taken for school yearbooks . Even hours after the strike, as firefighters poured water on the smoldering carcasses of overturned cars, passers-by were in shock.
Ukraine’s state emergency service said more than two dozen people remained missing as of Thursday evening. He said a search effort was underway in the rubble of a part of town where people typically shopped at the mall for household items or attended celebrations in the wedding hall.
“Every day Russia destroys the civilian population, kills Ukrainian children, directs rockets at civilian objects,” Zelenskyy said. “What is this if not an act of open terrorism?”
More than 50 buildings were damaged in the attack, Viktor Vitovetsky, an emergency services official, said at a news conference on Thursday. Dozens of emergency crew members were helping clear the rubble and search for survivors, he said.
The Russian Defense Ministry did not comment on the strike.
Vinnytsia, which had a pre-war population of over 370,000, lies west of the Dnieper, hundreds of kilometers from the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine, in the center of the Moscow’s military campaign in recent weeks. The area has not seen any major attacks since early March, days after the Russian invasion, when Russian cruise missiles hit an airport in the city.
Thursday’s attack on Vinnytsia and the missile strikes at the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv, which the city council said damaged two school buildings, are the latest examples of Russia’s willingness to launch attacks against populated civilian areas.
National Police Chief Ihor Klymenko said only six bodies had been identified so far, while 39 people were still missing. Three children under 10 among the dead. Of the 66 people hospitalized, five remained in critical condition while 34 were seriously injured, Ukraine’s state emergency service said.
Vinnytsia region governor Serhiy Borzov said 36 apartment buildings were damaged and residents were evacuated, while a 24-hour hotline was set up to get information on injured or missing persons. Thursday was declared a day of mourning, he said.
Margarita Simonyan, head of Russian state-controlled TV channel RT, said on her messaging app channel that military officials told her a building in Vinnytsia was being targeted because it housed “Nazis “Ukrainians.
In June, a missile hit a shopping complex in Kremenchuk, a town south of Kyiv on the Dnieper, killing 18 people. A nearby factory was a potential military target. In April, a Tochka-U ballistic missile hit a train station in Kramatorsk, killing 59 people, including seven children. A hundred other people were injured.
Some military analysts have said such strikes suggest Russia lacks precision weapons and resorts to random fire on targets, oblivious to collateral deaths. Others see it as an intentional campaign of brutality designed to break Ukraine’s will to resist.
“The way war is fought in this part of the world has always been brutal,” said Evelyn Farkas, director of the McCain Institute and former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia. , about Russian tactics. “The violation of the human rights of civilians has always been part of war.”
Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said the attack mirrors previous ones on residential areas that Moscow launched “to try to pressure Kyiv into making concessions”.
“Russia used the same tactic when hitting the Odessa region, Kremenchuk, Chasiv Yar and other areas,” Zhdanov said. “The Kremlin wants to show that it will continue to use unconventional methods of warfare and kill civilians in defiance of Kyiv and the entire international community.”
Russian forces also continued their artillery and missile attacks in eastern Ukraine, mainly in the Donetsk region after overtaking the adjacent Luhansk region. The town of Lysychansk, the last major Ukrainian resistance stronghold in Luhansk, fell to Russian forces earlier this month.
Lugansk and Donetsk together form Donbass, a predominantly Russian-speaking region of steelworks, mines, and other industries that fueled Ukraine’s economy.
Donetsk Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko meanwhile urged residents to evacuate as “quickly as possible”.
“We urge civilians to leave the area, where there is a lack of electricity, water and gas after the Russian shelling,” Kyrylenko said in televised remarks. “The fighting is intensifying and people should stop risking their lives and leave the area.
At the front, Russian and Ukrainian militaries are seeking to replenish their depleted stocks of unmanned aerial vehicles to locate enemy positions and guide artillery strikes.
Both sides are looking to procure advanced jamming-resistant drones that could provide a decisive advantage in combat. Ukrainian officials say the demand for such technology is “tremendous” with crowdfunding efforts underway to raise the necessary funds.
In other developments:
• Russian-installed officials in the Zaporizhzhia region of southeastern Ukraine have announced plans to hold a referendum in early September on the region’s integration into Russia. Large parts of Zaporizhzhia are now under Russian control, as is most of neighboring Kherson. Kremlin-backed administrations in both regions have declared their intention to become part of Russia. Separatist leaders of the self-proclaimed “republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk have also announced similar plans.
• Russia’s parliament speaker visited separatist-held areas in eastern Ukraine on Thursday, hours after 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 about the need to harmonize legislation between Russia and the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic in his speech to the territory’s self-proclaimed legislative assembly. He said Moscow and the separatists must “create a single legal field” in health, education, public services and social protections.
• Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday signed into law a bill banning the dissemination of information about Russian companies and individuals who may be subject to international sanctions. The law explicitly prohibits the publication on the Internet or in the media – without written permission – of any information about transactions carried out or planned by Russian natural or legal persons engaged in foreign economic activity. It also suspends for three years the mandatory publication of key financial and governance information by large Russian public companies.
Information for this article was provided by Maria Varenikova and Andrew E. Kramer of The New York Times; and by Maria Grazia Murru and Hanna Arhirova of The Associated Press.
Gallery: Images from Ukraine, month 5