Ukrainian authorities said Russian missiles hit a multi-storey building and nearby resorts in the Odessa region of southern Ukraine, killing at least 19 people and injuring dozens.

The Ukrainian president’s office said three X-22 missiles fired by Russian bombers hit a building and two campsites. Ukrainian security services said two children were among the dead.

Ukraine’s security services said 38 people, including six children and a pregnant woman, were hospitalized with injuries.

Kyiv says the missiles were fired from a plane into the Black Sea, where a day earlier Russian troops left the strategically important Snake Island.

“A terrorist country is killing our people. In response to defeats on the battlefield, they fight civilians,” said Andriy Yermak, the Ukrainian president’s chief of staff.

In Berlin, the government condemned the attack and new denials of responsibility by the Kremlin. “The Russian side, again talking about collateral damage, is inhumane and cynical,” German government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit said.

“We helped transport bodies”

Most of the victims were in the building in the village of Serhiivka, in the Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi district, about 80 kilometers south of the city of Odessa. Regional emergency manager Ihor Budalenko said a missile hit the building around 01:00 a.m. local time (midnight CET), killing 16 people.

He added that 41 people had been rescued from the building where 152 lived, and that work was underway to find people who might still be trapped. Part of the building was completely destroyed, while the walls and windows of a neighboring 14-storey building were damaged by the shock wave.

“We came here to the site, assessed the situation with rescuers and residents, and together helped those who survived. And those who unfortunately died. We helped take them away,” said Oleksandr Abramov, who lives nearby and had rushed to the scene when he heard the explosion.

Three other people, including a child, were killed in strikes that hit nearby resorts, officials said.

Moscow reiterates its denials on civilian targets

Ukraine’s presidential office said a series of Russian strikes over the past 24 hours had also killed civilians in eastern Ukraine – four in the northeastern region of Kharkiv and four others in the province of Donetsk.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin – which says it only strikes military infrastructure – has again denied targeting civilians.

“I would like to remind you of the president’s words that the Russian armed forces do not work with civilian targets,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

However, thousands of civilians have been killed since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24. Many attacks have hit civilian infrastructure, such as apartment buildings, schools and theatres.

A Ukrainian general said Thursday that Russia may be trying to hit military targets but killing civilians by launching inaccurate and outdated missiles into populated areas.

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Russian missile strikes ‘doubled in two weeks’

A Ukrainian military chief said on Thursday that the number of Russian missile strikes on Ukraine had more than doubled in the past two weeks. Brigadier General Oleksii Hromov estimated that 68 civilian sites were hit and claimed Moscow was using inaccurate Soviet-era missiles for more than half of the attacks.

The latest attacks come a day after Russia withdrew its troops from the strategically important Snake Island in the Black Sea in what the Defense Ministry in Moscow described as a ‘goodwill gesture’ aimed at facilitating exports grain from Ukraine.

The Ukrainian military, which had relentlessly shelled Russian forces on the island, said the Russians had been expelled, fleeing in two speedboats.

The battle rages for Lysychansk

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy hailed the Russian withdrawal from Snake Island as a strategic victory.

“It does not yet guarantee security. It does not yet guarantee that the enemy will not return,” he said in his nightly video address. “But this greatly limits the actions of the occupiers. Step by step, we will push them out of our sea, our land and our sky.”

In contrast, Ukrainian forces desperately clung to Russia’s superior firepower in the town of Lysychansk.

Russian artillery shelled from different directions while the Russian army approached from several sides, regional governor Serhiy Haidai told Ukrainian television.

“The superior firepower of the occupiers is still very evident,” Zelenskyy said. “They just brought all their reserves to hit us.”

Russian forces have been trying to encircle Lysychansk since capturing Sievierodonetsk, across the Siverskyi Donets river, last week after weeks of heavy fighting.

Ukrainian forces of the “South” district of the Joint Command of the Ukrainian Armed Forces killed 35 Russian servicemen and disabled two tanks and four armored vehicles, according to a Ukrainian military statement on Facebook on Friday.

“Ukrainian armed forces not only hold defense lines, but also engage in successful operations aimed at liberating occupied cities of Kherson region from invaders,” Kriviy Rih regional governor Oleksandr Vilkul said on Telegram, adding that Ukrainian troops had recaptured the town of Potyomkin. .

Battlefield claims could not be immediately verified.

Another ‘Iron Curtain’ is falling, says Lavrov

NATO leaders meeting in Madrid this week pledged to support Ukraine for as long as needed, modernizing the country’s military to help it resist the Russian invasion. The military alliance also updated its strategic plan to single out Russia as the biggest “direct threat” to Western security.

NATO also approved membership applications from Finland and Sweden and announced a massive increase in the number of troops along its eastern flank.

Several NATO member states have announced new military aid to Ukraine: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has pledged an additional 1 billion pounds (1.16 billion euros) and US President Joe Biden has pledged 800 million additional dollars (765 million euros).

French President Emmanuel Macron spoke of an upheaval in military planning in his country, stressing that “it is now necessary, when entering a period of war, to know how to produce certain types of equipment more quickly and more resistant”.

Vladimir Putin condemned what he called NATO’s “imperialist ambitions”, while Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said a new “iron curtain” was coming down – a reference to the political division between Western countries and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

The United Nations said on Thursday that some 16 million Ukrainians needed humanitarian assistance and more than six million were internally displaced.