(Uman) At least 25 people were killed early Friday morning in a new wave of Russian strikes on Ukrainian cities, as Kyiv says the preparatory phase of its spring offensive is winding down.

“Preparations are coming to an end,” Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said of the major attack his country wants to launch to reclaim territories occupied in the east and south by Russia.

“The equipment has been promised, prepared and partially delivered. In a broad sense, we are ready,” he said during a press conference. “When God wills it, (when there is) the weather and the decision of the commanders, we will do it.”

A few hours earlier, several Russian cruise missile strikes, the first of such magnitude since early March, hit apartment buildings, killing at least 23 people in Uman (center) and two others in Dnipro ( center-east), according to a latest report published around 12 p.m. (Eastern time).

“Every attack, every evil act against our country and (our) people brings the terrorist state closer to failure and punishment,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky reacted on Telegram, demanding an international “response” to the ” Russian terror.

Russia, for its part, claimed to have bombarded “temporary deployment points of the reserve units of the Ukrainian Armed Forces” with “high-precision weapons”.

“All assigned targets have been hit,” the Russian Defense Ministry said.

In Ouman, a city of 80,000 inhabitants, AFP journalists saw an apartment building ripped open by a missile, rescuers pulling out bodies and injured people waiting for news of their loved ones.

“I want to see my children, alive or dead,” Dmytro, 33, a resident of the affected building, told AFP. “They’re under the rubble.”

“I was sitting in front of the computer and there was a powerful explosion,” he continues. Before adding: “I come from Luhansk (a city in Donbass under Russian control, editor’s note) and I have seen a lot of things, but I do not want to say for the moment that I have lost my children”.

At least 23 people, including four children, died in this building, according to the latest report from the Ministry of the Interior.

Another Russian strike, on Dnipro, a city in central eastern Ukraine, caused the death of “a young woman” and “a three-year-old child”, its mayor Borys Filatov said on Telegram.

In total, the Ukrainian army announced on Telegram that it had shot down “21 X-101/X-555 type cruise missiles out of a total of 23 as well as two drones”.

For their part, authorities installed by Moscow announced on Friday that nine people had been killed and 16 injured in strikes by Ukrainian forces on Donetsk, the main city controlled by the Russians in eastern Ukraine.

This winter, Russia attempted to plunge Ukraine into darkness and disarray, pounding its energy infrastructure, a strategy that failed, however.

The prospect of an upcoming offensive by the Ukrainian army, backed by powerful Western equipment, would bring the war into a new phase, after more than a year of high-intensity conflict.

For several months, Ukraine has claimed to want to launch a decisive assault to reverse the course of the Russian invasion and liberate the almost 20% of its occupied territory – including the Crimean peninsula.

To help him, NATO member countries and their partners have provided the Ukrainians with 230 main battle tanks and 1,550 other armored vehicles, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced on Thursday.

And Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiï Reznikov welcomed the arrival in his country of Caesar guns from Denmark on Friday, without however specifying the number. Copenhagen had however promised last February to deliver 19 of these French-made guns.

Russia, for its part, has mobilized hundreds of thousands of reservists.

Despite frontline support from paramilitaries of the Wagner Group, Russian forces are tirelessly breaking their teeth on Bakhmout, an eastern city they have been trying to take since last summer, the longest and bloodiest battle of this war. For Moscow, it’s about claiming victory after several humiliating setbacks last year. The clashes there have become harsher, as Russian special forces are now fighting in the city, according to the Ukrainian army.

Near Bakhmout, Alex, 34, is about to go to a trench on the front to defend the city. “We are short of soldiers, we have a lot of wounded, and also dead […]. Sometimes in the trenches, you have to hide behind a corpse. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Ukrainian or another, it’s the only way to survive,” he said.

Kyiv explains its strategy of attrition war in the area to limit as much as possible the possibilities for the Russian army to continue its conquest of Donbass, a large industrial basin in the eastern part of Ukraine.

And on the diplomatic front, President Zelensky announced on Friday that he had requested China’s help in the case of the return of Ukrainian children “deported” by Russia, whose number is officially estimated at at least 20,000 by Kyiv.