KYIV — A Russian missile demolished an apartment block in a Ukrainian region that Moscow says it has annexed, killing at least one woman, as the Ukrainian military forged ahead with its drive to recapture land in the south and east.
The missile attack on the city of Zaporizhzhia in the southern region of the same name left some people buried under the rubble, the regional governor said on Thursday, and was a stark reminder of Moscow’s ability to strike targets even at a time when its forces appear to be struggling on the battlefield.
There was no immediate comment on the strike from Russia, whose invasion of Ukraine has begun to unravel after a Ukrainian counteroffensive in which thousands of square miles of territory have been retaken since the start of September, including dozens of settlements in recent days.
In a blow for Moscow, thousands of Russian troops have retreated after the front line crumbled, first in the northeast, and, since the beginning of this week, also in the south.
Images of the aftermath of Thursday’s missile strike, which took place in the early hours of the morning, showed a gaping, rubble-strewn hole where a terracotta-colored five-story apartment block used to stand next to a wine shop.
Reuters reporters saw firefighters bringing a father and son down a long ladder and talking to an older man still trapped under rubble and covered in dust.
Eduard, a 49-year-old man who survived the attack said: “It was dark, around five in the morning. I was woken up by a strong explosion. The room filled with smoke and dust. I jumped up to go see what had happened.”
Twelve people were wounded, including a three-year-old child, and five were still under the rubble, said Oleksandr Starukh, the governor.
The attack came just a day after President Vladimir Putin signed a law to incorporate four partially occupied Ukrainian regions into Russia, including Zaporizhzhia, in Europe’s biggest attempted annexation since World War Two.
Kyiv called the new law, which seeks to incorporate about 18% of Ukraine’s territory into Russia, the act of a “collective madhouse.”
Russia moved to annex the four regions after holding what it called referendums – votes that were denounced by Kyiv and Western governments as illegal and coercive.
‘WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?’
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a late night address on Wednesday that his army had retaken more settlements in the southern Kherson region.
Switching from Ukrainian to Russian, Zelenskiy addressed pro-Moscow forces, telling them they had already lost.
“Ukrainians know what they are fighting for. And more and more citizens of Russia are realizing that they must die simply because one person does not want to end the war,” he said, in a reference to Putin.
Footage released by the Ukrainian army in Kherson showed a Russian infantry fighting vehicle with a white piece of fabric wrapped around its gun barrel surrendering to Ukrainian troops and its three-man Russian crew falling to their knees as a group of Ukrainian soldiers covered them with their guns.
Ukraine’s military in the south said its forces had killed at least 58 Russian fighters, destroyed nine tanks, 17 armored vehicles and four howitzers.
Reuters could not immediately verify the reports.
Kirill Stremousov, a Russian-installed official in Kherson, said that Ukraine’s advance in the area had been halted.
“The situation is under control, there is no advance of Ukraine’s Armed Forces, and our military guys are working,” he said on the Telegram messaging app.
Stremousov also defended what he said was a decision to fall back and regroup.
“We simply regrouped, and if anyone does not like this word, we regrouped because, thanks to this regrouping, we saved the lives of our military, our guys.”
Moscow’s map of Ukraine appears to show shrinking areas it controls. A map of “new regions” published by state news agency RIA included the full territory of the four Ukrainian provinces, but some parts were labeled as being under Ukrainian military control.
Inside Russia, signs of discontent with the leadership of the defense ministry, which is run by Putin ally Sergei Shoigu, have begun to bubble up among even loyalist state TV hosts.
“Please explain to me what the general staff’s genius idea is now? Vladimir Solovyov, one of the most prominent Russian talk show hosts, said on his livestream channel.
“Do you think time is on our side? They (the Ukrainians) have hugely increased their amount of weapons… But what have you done in that time?”
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(Reporting by Reuters bureaux; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Alex Richardson)