At least seven people were killed on Wednesday in Russian air strikes on Ukrainian cities which President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said showed Moscow was not interested in peace.
In a series of early-morning drone strikes, six people were killed and 18 taken to hospital when two dormitories and a college were hit in Rzhyshchiv, 40 miles south of the capital Kyiv, regional police chief Andrii Nebytov said.
The attack left a gaping hole in the top floor of a five-story dormitory and a pile of rubble marked where part of another building had stood, a Reuters witness said.
Hours later, two residential buildings were damaged in a missile strike on the southeastern city of Zaporizhzhia. One person was killed and 33 were taken to hospital, officials said.
The Ukrainian military said it knocked out 16 of 21 Iranian-made Shahed drones fired by Russia.
“Every time someone tries to hear the word ‘peace’ in Moscow, another order is given there for such criminal strikes,” Zelenskyy wrote on Twitter in an apparent reference to Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s state visit to Russia, which ended on Wednesday.
Zelenskyy described the attack on Zaporizhzhia an act of “bestial savagery”.
Russia invaded its neighbor Ukraine 13 months ago and has carried out waves of air attacks. Russia says it is targeting infrastructure as part of what it calls a “special military operation” to remove what it says is a threat to its own security. Ukraine and its allies accuse Moscow of an unprovoked war to grab territory.
In Rzhyshchiv, rescue workers searched through the rubble. Three people were still missing, Nebytov said, and among the dead was an ambulance driver who went to the scene.
“The majority of people (at the dormitories) were saved because they … were in bomb shelters,” Nebytov said.
Viktoria, a town resident, said she heard the first explosion at 2 a.m.
“I woke up from that first explosion and went outside, where I heard another Shahed. It flew very low,” she said. “And then there was another explosion, from the first explosion there had already been a fire … And a third time something flew by.”
A Rzhyshchiv College employee, who gave her name as Svitlana, said the students clearly knew what to do after the explosions occurred.
“Well, the children called us, we came here and took them to our homes … Then, we sent them home,” she said. “The children were in the shelter, they did everything right.”
Air force spokesperson Yuriy Ihnat said Russia probably carried out the Zaporizhzhia attack with high-speed rockets fired from the Tornado-S multiple rocket launch system.
CHINA WATCHING THE WORLD’S RESPONSE – BLINKEN
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told lawmakers on Wednesday that China was “very carefully” watching how Washington and the world respond to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the impact of which he said was being felt in Asia.
Speaking on the heels of a visit to Moscow by Chinese President Xi Jinping, Blinken said if Russia was allowed to attack its neighbor with impunity, it would “open a Pandora’s box” for would-be aggressors and lead to a “world of conflict.”
“The stakes in Ukraine go well beyond Ukraine. … I think it has a profound impact in Asia, for example,” Blinken said, noting that Japan and South Korea had been major supporters of Ukraine in the conflict.
However, he said he did not believe that China has been providing lethal aid to Russia.
“As we speak today, we have not seen them cross that line,” Blinken told a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing, the first of four times he will testify to congressional committees this week.
Russia’s invasion has led to debates over how the war will affect China’s military thinking regarding Taiwan, the self-governing island that Beijing sees as sovereign Chinese territory.
“I think if China’s looking at this – and they are looking at it very carefully – they will draw lessons for how the world comes together, or doesn’t, to stand up to this aggression,” Blinken said.
Xi and Russian President Vladimir Putin greeted one another as “dear friend” when they met in the Kremlin, and discussed China’s proposals for a resolution to the Ukraine conflict.
Blinken said China’s political and material support for Russia goes against Washington’s interests, but added that Washington had not yet seen evidence that Beijing is providing Moscow with lethal aid for the conflict.
SWEDEN PASSES NATO ACCESSION BILL, AWAITS RATIFICATION
Sweden’s parliament on Wednesday formally approved a bill to allow the country to join NATO when its application has been ratified by all 30 members of the alliance, a process where it remains waiting on the final endorsements.
Sweden and its neighbor Finland asked to join the trans-Atlantic military alliance last year in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But the process has been held up by Turkey, which along with Hungary has yet to ratify the memberships.
The bill was passed as expected with an overwhelming majority – 296 in favor and 37 votes against – with the small Left Party and Greens the only parties opposing the proposal. If Sweden is accepted into the alliance it will end two centuries of military non-alignment for the country.
Sweden in particular has faced objections from Turkey, which says Stockholm harbors members of what Turkey considers terrorist groups – a charge Sweden denies – and has demanded their extradition as a step towards giving Sweden’s NATO membership the go-ahead.
Speaking in parliament, Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom was optimistic about Sweden’s chances to join the alliance by the time of the NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania in July.
“It goes without saying that we will be able to become members by Vilnius,” he said just ahead of the vote.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan Turkey’s parliament would start ratifying Finland’s accession but held off approving Sweden’s bid. Similarly, Hungary’s legislature said the same day it would vote on ratification of Finland’s accession on March 27, but not Sweden’s.
Copyright 2023 Thomson/Reuters