(Uman) At least 16 people were killed early Friday morning in a new wave of Russian strikes on several cities in Ukraine, as Kyiv says the preparatory phase for its major counter-offensive “is coming to an end”.

“Preparations are coming to an end,” Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said of the major attack Kyiv 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 told a press conference.

Earlier Friday, several Russian strikes, the first major since early March, hit various cities in Ukraine.

“This Russian terror must lead to a just response from Ukraine and the world,” Volodymyr Zelensky said on Telegram. “Every attack, every evil act against our country and (our) people brings the terrorist state one step closer to failure and punishment,” he lashed out.

“I want to see my children, alive or dead,” said Dmytro, a 33-year-old resident whose apartment building in central Uman was hit by a Russian missile early Friday. “They are under the rubble,” he added.

“I was sitting in front of the computer and there was a powerful explosion,” he said. Before adding: “I come from Luhansk (city in Donbass under Russian control, Editor’s note.) and I have seen a lot of things, but I have not yet lost my children”.

In this city of some 80,000 inhabitants and site of the traditional pilgrimage of Hasidic Jews located some 200 kilometers south of Kyiv, AFP journalists saw a gutted building with many rubble on the ground.

“At this point, 14 people have died,” the Interior Ministry said on Telegram. Among the dead were “two ten-year-old children,” regional governor Igor Tabourets said on Telegram.

Another Russian strike on Dnipro, a large city in central eastern Ukraine, killed “a young woman and a three-year-old child,” 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”.

The missile attack was launched “around 4 a.m.” (9 p.m. Eastern Time) from Russian Tu-95 type strategic bombers located in the Caspian Sea area, according to the same source.

In Kyiv, a power line was cut following the fall of a debris which also damaged the roadway, according to the authorities.

In the city of Ukrainka, near Kyiv, shrapnel from a downed missile fell on a building injuring a girl, who was hospitalized, according to regional governor Ruslan Kravchenko.

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

For several months, Kyiv has said it wants to launch a decisive assault to reverse the course of the Russian invasion and liberate the nearly 20% of the territory – including the Crimean peninsula – currently under Russian control.

For its part, Russia has mobilized hundreds of thousands of reservists to consolidate its territorial gains in eastern and southern Ukraine and still has the objective of conquering the entire Donbass, Ukraine’s historic industrial basin.

Despite frontline support from the paramilitaries of the Russian Wagner Group, the Russian army tirelessly breaks its teeth on the declared fortress of Bakhmout, now devastated and where only a few thousand civilians survive, between the crossfire of the fighting.

Both sides conceded heavy losses in the longest and bloodiest battle since the start of the conflict, without quantifying them precisely, while observers doubt the real strategic interest of this city.

For Moscow, it is above all a question of brandishing a victory after several humiliating setbacks last autumn, while Kyiv justifies its strategy of war of attrition in the area to limit as much as possible the possibilities for the Russian army to continue his conquest of the Donbass.

A Russian Deputy Prime Minister, Marat Khousnullin, said on Friday he visited the center of the epicenter city of the fighting, promising to “rebuild” the city after its conquest by Moscow.

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

The arrival of Western military equipment, including tanks and armored vehicles, in addition to ammunition, could help Kyiv, its leaders believe, repel the Russian army.