The death toll from a Russian rocket attack that hit an apartment block in eastern Ukraine over the weekend rose to 24 on Monday, as rescuers continued to comb through the rubble in search of survivors, the State Emergency Service said.
Brick by brick, rescuers picked through a huge mound of rubble that remained of a collapsed five-story block struck late on Saturday in the town of Chasiv Yar in the Donetsk region.
A Reuters reporter on Monday saw rescuers lift a survivor from the ruins to a stretcher and carry away the bodies of two people in white bags. Rescuers made voice contact with two people in the wreckage, and emergency services released a video of workers pulling a man from under the concrete debris, where up to two dozen people remain trapped.
Nine people have been rescued so far, the State Emergency Service said.
Russia, which invaded Ukraine in what it calls a special military operation, denies targeting civilians.
Russia is expected to focus the brunt of its assault on eastern Ukraine in the region of Donetsk after claiming the capture of the neighboring Luhansk region. Together, the regions make up the Donbas.
Meanwhile, Russian weapons also pounded Ukraine‘s second-largest city Kharkiv killing at least three people on Monday, authorities said.
The artillery, multiple rocket launcher, and tank attacks on Kharkiv also injured 31 people including two children, regional governor Oleh Synehubov said. The Ukrainian president’s office said residential areas had been hit.
The attack on Chasiv Yar, where the apartment complex was hit, is part of Russia’s push to capture all of the industrial Donbas region in the east, partly controlled by separatist proxies since 2014, after declaring victory in Luhansk province earlier this month.
Military experts say Russia is using artillery barrages to pave the way for a renewed push for territory by ground forces.
Kharkiv, in the northeast close to the Russian border but outside the Donbas, suffered heavy bombardment in the first few months of the war followed by a period of relative calm that has been shattered by renewed shelling in recent weeks.
The city’s mayor, Ihor Terekhov, said civilian infrastructure had been hit by the latest strikes, including a commercial property and a tire repair shop.
Moscow denies targeting civilians, but many Ukrainian cities, towns, and villages have been left in ruins by Russian shelling since the Feb. 24 invasion, with basements and bomb shelters the only safe place for those who remain.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russia had carried out 34 air strikes since Saturday, while his chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, said Moscow should be designated as a state sponsor of terrorism over the apartment bombing.
Dazed residents in Chasiv Yar who survived the attack retrieved personal belongings and told stories of their escape.
“We ran to the basement, there were three hits, the first somewhere in the kitchen,” said a resident who gave her name as Ludmila. “There was lightning, we ran towards the second entrance and then straight into the basement. We sat there all night.” Another survivor, who gave her name as Venera, said she had wanted to save her two kittens.
“I was thrown into the bathroom, it was all chaos, I was in shock, all covered in blood,” she said, crying. “By the time I left the bathroom, the room was full up of rubble, three floors fell down. I never found the kittens.”
The war has exposed diplomatic faultlines across Europe and sent energy and food prices soaring. Applying a further phase of European Union sanctions against Russia, Lithuania on Monday expanded restrictions on trade through its territory to Russia’s Baltic coast exclave of Kaliningrad.
Europe’s dependence on Russian energy was preoccupying policymakers and the business world as the biggest pipeline carrying Russian gas to Germany began 10 days of annual maintenance. Governments, markets, and companies are worried the shutdown might be extended because of the war.
The biggest conflict in Europe since World War Two has killed thousands of people, left cities and towns in ruins, and seen more than 6 million Ukrainians flee their country.
About half returned after Russia abandoned an early advance on the capital Kyiv, in north-central Ukraine, in the face of fierce resistance bolstered by Western weapons.
Copyright 2022 Thomson/Reuters (edited for FISM News by Michael Cardinal)