KYIV, Ukraine – Explosions far behind the front lines rocked Ukraine on Friday, as a Russian missile demolished part of a hospital complex and apparent Ukrainian strikes hit Russian-occupied towns, in their escalation of long-range air warfare.
The attack on a medical center in the central city of Dnipro killed at least two people, left three others missing and injured at least 30 people, Ukrainian officials said. It destroyed a three-story building and damaged several others.
President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine posted a video on social media of a gutted building, missing its roof and upper walls, belching smoke into the sky, calling it “another crime against humanity”.
Ukraine is expected to launch a major counter-offensive soon – some analysts say it may already be in its early stages – and both sides have stepped up strikes from range ahead of the clash on the ground. kyiv forces increased tempo and scale deep attacks in territory under Russian control, mainly against military depots, troop convoys and concentrations, and railways used by Russian forces.
On Friday, explosions were reported over the Russian-occupied southern city of Berdyansk, about 60 miles from the front, for the second time this week. Vladimir Rogov, a Russian occupation official in southern Ukraine, said several loud explosions sounded across Berdyansk overnight and that Russian air defenses thwarted a Ukrainian attack, a claim that has not been confirmed. could be confirmed.
Ukraine’s military did not comment specifically on Berdyansk, but said its air force “launched five strikes targeting clusters of enemy manpower and equipment.” GeoConfirmed, one of many volunteer groups closely monitoring battlefield movements in Ukraine, images posted on Twitter showing a large fire and said impacts were recorded in Berdyansk, although it is unclear what was hit.
On Friday evening, there were two large explosions in another occupied southern city, Mariupol, about 40 miles from Berdyansk, near the Azovstal steelworks, according to Mariupol city government officials who fled before that the Russians do not take over. Russian occupation officials said the explosions were caused by Ukrainian missilesnewly supplied by Britain, according to state news agency Tass.
The hospital strike on Dnipro on Friday morning followed one of Russia’s increasingly frequent nighttime barrages targeting towns and infrastructure away from the battlefield, with missiles and drones fired in clusters in an attempt to overwhelm Ukrainian air defenses. The Ukrainian army said it destroyed 10 of the 17 missiles launched and 23 of the 31 attack drones.
“Only an evil state can fight against clinics,” Mr. Zelensky wrote on Twitter. “There can be no military purpose in this. It’s pure terror.”
The Russian Defense Ministry told state media that it struck Ukrainian ammunition depots.
The city of Dnipro is a hub for Ukrainian soldiers injured in battle, usually a first stop before they are transported to hospitals in other parts of the country. It was unclear whether any Ukrainian soldiers were being treated at the facility which was hit on Friday.
“It was a really difficult night,” said Serhii Lysak, head of the Dnipro regional government. One of those killed, he said, was a 69-year-old man who was “just passing through” when the hospital was hit.
Since the start of President Vladimir V. Putin’s full-scale invasion 15 months ago, Russia has used its weaponry advantage to bomb civilian targets across Ukraine, such as hospitals, schools and power plants, which is considered a war crime. At first, long-range strikes were entirely one-sided and largely unhindered.
But as the Ukrainian military gained experience and obtained a growing range of Western weaponry, it became more adept at intercepting such Russian attacks and more able to react accordingly.
Last summer, the United States began supplying Ukraine with HIMARS rocket artillery systems with a range of around 50 miles, which made a crucial difference in the battle. In December, Ukraine showed that it could adapt Soviet-era surveillance drones in long-range weapons to strike in Russia. And Britain this month began donating high-precision, air-launched aircraft to Ukraine. Storm Shadow cruise missile with a range of around 150 miles – far enough to reach any corner of Russian-occupied Ukraine.
After a strike in Berdyansk on Sundaylocal Russian officials claimed kyiv used the newly acquired Storm Shadow.
Russian forces have turned Berdyansk, a port on the Sea of Azov, into a military stronghold, using it as a base for soldiers and a transit point for suppliesaccording to military analysts.
Closer to the front lines in the Donetsk region, Russian forces broke a dam on the Vovcha River on Thursday, causing flooding downstream that threatened six villages, home to nearly 1,000 people, Pavlo Kyrylenko, the Ukrainian regional administrator, said on Friday. The strike may have been an attempt to impede Ukrainian troop movements behind the lines, a tactic both sides have used in this war.
The Ukrainian government has repeatedly warned against the risk that Russia blow up the much larger Kakhovka dam on the Dnipro River, flooding a much wider area and lowering the reservoir that cools the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, creating an emergency situation there.
Late Friday, Ukrainian military intelligence warned that the Russians planned to create an emergency at the power station, which they occupied, “in the next few hours” to provide a pretext for a ceasefire that would would prevent the counter-offensive. The Ukrainian government has issued warnings about threats to the plant before, but has rarely been so specific.
“A strike will be carried out” on the plant, followed by the announcement of a radioactive leak, according to the intelligence service said on telegram, adding that the Russians would blame Ukraine. Energoatom, the Ukrainian nuclear company, repeated the allegation.
The Ukrainians have not provided any evidence to support this claim, which makes it unclear whether this could be a case of disinformation intended to unbalance the Russians. Hours later, a Russian occupation official claimed that it was the Ukrainians who planned to create an emergency at the plant.
The United States is closely monitoring the situation but has seen no information to support the idea that an incident is planned, said a US official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters. The United States has direct access to data from radiation sensors in the region, the official said.
The United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency has inspectors based at the Zaporizhzhia plant, and a rotation of some arriving and some departing was due to take place on Friday. The Ukrainians said the Russians disrupted it. The Russian state energy company that now oversees the plant told Tass the Ukrainians blocked it.
The UN agency declined to comment.
On the diplomatic front, Pope Francis, who has proposed the Vatican as a mediator, has refused to endorse the position of Ukraine and many of its Western backers that Russia must return all Ukrainian territory it has seized. is seized. kyiv has called this a prerequisite for peace talks, insisting that otherwise any ceasefire would only consolidate Russian gains.
In an interview Thursday, in Spanish, with Telemundo network, Francis was asked twice if Russia should give up the territory. The first time, he didn’t answer the question directly.
“It’s a political question,” he said the second time around. “Peace will be achieved once they can talk to each other.”
Andrew E. Kramer And Maria Varenikova contributed reporting from Pokrovsk, Ukraine, and Julian E. Barnes from Washington.