VINNYTSIA, Ukraine: A Ukrainian town far from the front line mourned its dead following a missile strike, including a 4-year-old girl, as Russian shelling rained down on towns across the country.
Ukraine said Thursday’s strike on an office building in Vinnytsia, a city of 370,000 people about 200 km (125 miles) southwest of Kyiv, was carried out with Kalibr cruise missiles launched from a Russian submarine in the Black Sea.
Kyiv said the attack killed at least 23 people and injured dozens.
The missiles destroyed a nearby medical center and some people arriving for treatment were burned to death in their cars outside, the centre’s owner said. Two doctors were seriously injured.
The attack was the latest in a series of Russian strikes in recent weeks using long-range missiles on crowded buildings in towns far from the front, each killing dozens of people.
Late Friday, Russian missiles struck the central city of Dnipro, killing three people and injuring 15 others, Governor Valentyn Reznychenko said on Telegram. Rockets hit an industrial plant and a nearby street, he said. Footage on social media showed thick black smoke rising from burning buildings and cars.
Eight people were killed and 13 injured in a series of shellings in 10 localities in the eastern region of Donetsk, its regional governor, Pavlo Kyrylenko, said in a television interview.
“At this very moment, as I write this address, there is an air alarm over almost the entire territory of our State. There is preliminary information about the strikes – Dnipro, Kremenchuk, Kyiv region,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a Telegram post.
In Vinnytsia, residents placed teddy bears and flowers on a makeshift memorial to those killed in Thursday’s attack.
Among the dead was Liza, a 4-year-old girl with Down syndrome, found in the rubble next to a pram. Images of her pushing the same pram, posted by her mother on a blog less than two hours before the attack, quickly went viral.
Her critically injured mother, Iryna Dmitrieva, was being kept in an informational blackout at a hospital for fear the discovery of her daughter would kill her, doctors said.
“She suffers from burns, injuries to her chest, abdomen, liver and spleen. We sewed the organs together, the bones were crushed as if through a meat grinder,” said Oleksandr Fomin, chief physician at Vinnytsia Emergency Hospital. If she were informed of her daughter’s death, “we would lose her”.
The building housed an officers’ club, which the Russian Defense Ministry said was used for a meeting between military officials and foreign arms suppliers. He added: “The attack resulted in the elimination of the participants.”
Ukraine said the club operated as a cultural center. The building also housed shops, commercial offices and a concert hall, where musicians were rehearsing for a pop concert scheduled for that evening.
Authorities in the southern city of Mykolaiv, closer to the front lines, also reported new strikes on Friday that injured at least two people.
Despite the bloodshed, the two sides described progress towards an agreement to lift a blockade restricting the export of Ukrainian grain. Mediator Turkey said a deal could be signed next week.
Asked if that timeline was realistic, a senior Ukrainian official told Reuters: “We really hope so. We are rushing as quickly as possible. The source asked not to be identified.
The Russian Defense Ministry said a deal was close, but the Moscow negotiator warned that a grain deal would not lead to a resumption of peace talks.
A deal would likely involve ship inspections to ensure Ukraine is not importing weapons and guarantees from Western countries that Russia’s own food exports are exempt from sanctions.
Moscow on Thursday welcomed a written clarification from Washington that banks, insurers and shippers would not face sanctions for facilitating Russian grain and fertilizer shipments.
The war dominated a meeting of G20 finance ministers in Indonesia on Friday. The conflict involving two of the world’s major grain exporters and one of its major oil and gas producers is causing global food and energy shortages, inflation, financial crisis and, potentially, hunger.
“By unleashing this war, Russia is solely responsible for the negative fallout on the global economy, particularly the rise in commodity prices,” US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said.
Russia describes its February 24 intervention as a “special military operation” to disarm Ukraine and root out nationalists. Kyiv and its allies call it an attempt to reclaim a country that broke free from Moscow’s rule in 1991.
The intensification of Russian attacks on towns far from the front comes at a time when the momentum appears to be changing after weeks of Russian gains.
Since capturing the eastern industrial cities of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk in battles that killed thousands of soldiers on both sides, Russia has been on pause. A Ukrainian general said Kyiv had not lost “a single meter” of territory in a week.
Meanwhile, Ukraine has launched new HIMARS rocket systems received from the United States, hitting targets deep in Russian-held territory. He appears to have blown up ammunition depots that Moscow relies on for massive artillery barrages.
The first M270 systems that will give Ukraine additional multi-rocket firepower have arrived in the country, Ukraine’s Defense Minister said on Friday.
Ukraine says it is preparing a counterattack in the coming weeks to retake part of the southern territory near the Black Sea coast.