(Uman) At least 22 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 commanders decision, we will do it.”
A few hours earlier, several Russian cruise missile strikes, the first on a large scale since the beginning of March, hit apartment buildings, killing at least 20 people in Uman (Center) and two in Dnipro (Center -East), according to a latest report published around 10 a.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 people, AFP journalists saw an apartment building ripped open by a missile, rescuers pulling out bodies and injured people awaiting 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 have not lost my children yet”.
At least 20 people died in this building, according to the latest report from the Ministry of the Interior. Among them, “two ten-year-old children”, lamented for his part the regional governor Igor Tabourets on Telegram.
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”.
In Ukrainka, near Kyiv, shrapnel from a downed missile fell on a building, injuring a girl who was hospitalized, the regional governor said.
For their part, authorities installed by Moscow announced on Friday that seven people had died and more than 10 had been injured in strikes by Ukrainian forces on Donetsk, the main city controlled by the Russians in eastern Ukraine.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (AEIA) for its part has once again denounced the security conditions around the Zaporijjia nuclear power plant, in an area controlled by Russian forces. The agency’s experts, present on the spot, were “forced again to take refuge in shelters this week after alerts of missile fire”, denounced the AEIA in a press release on Friday, adding that a mine had exploded near the site of the power plant.
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.
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.
However, some major weapons will not be available or usable, including the training of soldiers to use them, for many months.
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 capture since last summer, the longest and bloodiest battle of this war.
For Moscow, it’s about claiming victory after several humiliating setbacks last year.
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.
A Russian Deputy Prime Minister, Marat Khousnullin, said on Friday that he visited the center of Bakhmout promising to “rebuild” this city once conquered by Moscow.