KRAMATORSK, Ukraine — Russian missiles struck Kramatorsk in eastern Ukraine on Thursday, striking a city that is a major base of Ukrainian military operations, amid warnings from Kyiv that Moscow was opening a new offensive In the war that has been going on for 11 months.
The strike came hours before Russian President Vladimir Putin was expected to drum up domestic support for an invasion of Ukraine in a speech in Moscow Anniversary of the Soviet victory over the Nazis at Stalingrada decisive battle of World War II that many Russians consider a symbol of wartime heroism.
Russian attacks have escalated in Kramatorsk, an old command center for the Ukrainian army and the staging post for the Ukrainian defense of the city of Bakhmut, which Russia came close to capturing after months of brutal fighting. The fall of Bakhmut would be Moscow’s first major military victory since the summer, though it came at a heavy cost in the lives of Russians and Ukrainians.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that a large build-up of Russian forces in the occupied parts of eastern Ukraine, along with a sharp increase in artillery shelling in the east, It signals the start of a new Russian offensive.
On Wednesday night, at least three people were killed and more than a dozen injured when a missile slammed into a four-story apartment complex in Kramatorsk, reducing much of the building to a smoking ruin.
As rescuers dug furiously through the rubble Thursday, trying to find an entrance to a basement where residents might have been hiding, there was a flash and two more rockets landed nearby, sending firefighters running in all directions.
One missile hit a yard, damaging several cars and a row of garages, and stuck another in the middle of the road. Residents fled to basements, where police warned that more rockets were coming.
The head of the regional military administration, Pavlo Kirilenko, said five people were wounded in Thursday’s strikes, which hit a school, a clinic and more than a dozen buildings.
At a hospital near one of the blast sites, Anna Olandarenko, 51, said two of her friends, a married couple, were injured, the husband suffering a serious concussion, and the wife’s arm being broken.
“Terrible, don’t even describe it,” she said. “You can’t wrap your head around it.”
Kramatorsk is the largest Ukrainian city near the epicenter of fighting in the eastern region known as Donbass. It is a hive of military activity, with the number of soldiers and armored personnel carriers increasing in recent days. Bakhmut is about 20 miles away and the whole area is being bombarded with Russian ordnance almost daily.
It was not clear why the building was targeted. At the site of the blast, the mutilated and burnt remains of several vehicles looked as if they belonged to the military.
In April, at least 50 people were killed and many more wounded in a rocket attack on Kramatorsk Train Station. And the attacks continued: a Russian missile fell outside a kindergarten in the city last week, killing a Crater. On Wednesday, the Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office He said it was opened A war crimes investigation into the latest attack.
“This is not a repetition of history. This is the daily reality of our country,” Mr. Zelensky said in a statement after Wednesday’s attack.
Carly Olson in New York and Matthew Mbok Begg In London he contributed to the preparation of reports.
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