Russia has stepped up its missile and drone attacks against Ukraine, killing students and other civilians, in a violent follow-up to duelling high-level diplomatic missions aimed at bringing peace after 13 months of war.
“Russia is shelling the city with bestial savagery,” President Volodymyr Zelensky wrote in a Telegram post accompanying video showing what he said was a Russian missile striking a nine-storey apartment building on a busy road in the south-eastern city of Zaporizhzhia.
He added: “Residential areas where ordinary people and children live are being fired at.”
At least one person was killed in the attack shown in the Zaporizhzhia video, apparently recorded by closed circuit TV cameras.
Elsewhere, Moscow’s forces launched exploding drones before dawn, killing seven people in or near a student dormitory near Kyiv.
Ukrainian media showed charred apartments and flames billowing on several floors of the buildings. Two children were among the wounded, said Zaporizhzhia City Council secretary Anatolii Kurtiev, adding that 25 people needed hospital treatment, with three in a critical condition.
The city of Zaporizhzhia is about 60 miles from the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, Europe’s largest which has previously come under threat during the war and has been shut down for months.
The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that the plant had suffered another loss of a backup external power source.
Its six reactors still need power to cool nuclear fuel, and were relying on only a primary source on Wednesday, the IAEA said.
Russia has denied targeting residential areas even though artillery and rocket strikes hit apartment buildings and civilian infrastructure on a daily basis.
Russian officials have blamed Ukrainian air defences for some of the deadliest strikes on apartments, saying the deployment of air defence systems in residential areas puts civilians at risk. Russia sometimes also claims Ukraine is hiding military equipment and personnel in civilian buildings.
The war, which Russia started on February 24 2022, has evolved in two main directions: a front line mainly in eastern Ukraine, centred around the city of Bakhmut, and periodic Russian missile and drone strikes nationwide.
In addition, periodic – although unconfirmed – Ukrainian sabotage attacks have been launched across the border into Russia.
Earlier on Wednesday, a drone attack damaged a high school and two dormitories in the city of Rzhyshchiv, south of the Ukrainian capital, officials said.
The body of a 40-year-old man was pulled from the rubble on one floor, according to regional police chief Andrii Nebytov, adding that more than 20 people were taken to hospital.
The attacks occurred as two duelling diplomatic missions were winding down.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida left Kyiv after meeting Mr Zelensky in a show of support for Ukraine.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping left Moscow after meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin and discussing Beijing’s peace proposal, which has been rejected by the West as a non-starter. No progress towards peace was reported.
The drone barrage and other Russian attacks on civilian infrastructure drew a scathing response from Mr Zelensky.
“Over 20 Iranian murderous drones, plus missiles, numerous shelling occasions, and that’s just in one last night of Russian terror,” he tweeted in English. “Every time someone tries to hear the word ‘peace’ in Moscow, another order is given there for such criminal strikes.”
Zaporizhzhia’s regional administration said two missiles struck the apartment block, saying Russia’s goal is “to scare the civilian population of the city of thousands”.
“It’s hell in Zaporizhzhia,” Ukrainian politician Oleksiy Goncharenko wrote on Telegram, adding: “There aren’t any military facilities nearby.”
Vladimir Rogov, an official with the Moscow-appointed regional administration for the Russian-occupied part of the Zaporizhzhia region, claimed, without offering evidence, that a Ukrainian air defence missile launched to intercept a Russian missile had hit the apartment complex.
In other attacks, Ukrainian air defences downed 16 of the 21 drones that Russia launched, the Ukraine General Staff said. Eight were shot down near the capital, according to the city’s military administration. Other drones struck the west-central province of Khmelnytskyi.
Also on Wednesday, Mr Zelensky made another in a periodic series of battlefield visits, meeting soldiers and officers in the eastern Donetsk region, stopping by a hospital to see wounded troops and giving state awards to the defenders of Bakhmut, a devastated city that has become a symbol of Ukraine’s dogged resistance.
Mr Zelensky’s last known visit to the Bakhmut area was in December.
In other developments:
— The Russian military fended off a drone attack on the main harbour in the Black Sea fleet headquarters city of Sevastopol, the city’s Moscow-appointed head, Mikhail Razvozhayev, reported.
He said the navy destroyed three aquatic drones, that Russian warships were not damaged and that several civilian facilities were damaged when the drones were hit and exploded. The blasts shattered windows in several buildings near the harbour. No injuries were reported. Ukrainian officials did not claim responsibility for the attack.
— Three people were wounded in a Russian missile attack on a monastery in the southern Ukrainian port city of Odesa on Tuesday night. According to Ukrainian Presidential Office head Andrii Yermak, two of four missiles were shot down.
— Ukraine’s Finance Ministry agreed with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on a 15.6 billion dollar loan package aimed at shoring up the country’s economy, which the invasion has crippled. Ukrainian officials hope the IMF deal will encourage their allies to provide financial support, too.