Russia Pounds Major Ukrainian City After Expanding War Aims

KHARKIV, Ukraine — Russian shelling pounded a densely populated area in Ukraine’s second-largest city Thursday, killing at least three people and injuring at least 23 others with a barrage that struck a mosque, a medical facility and a shopping area, according to officials and witnesses.

Police in the northeast city of Kharkiv said cluster bombs hit Barabashovo Market, where Associated Press journalists saw a woman crying over her dead husband’s body. Local officials claimed that shelling also targeted a bus stop as well as a gym and residential property.

The bombardment came after Russia reiterated its plans to seize territories beyond eastern Ukraine, where the Russian military has spent months trying to conquer Ukraine’s Donbas region, which is south of Kharkiv. The Russian declaration Wednesday came after Ukrainian officials aired plans to try to recapture Russian-occupied areas near the country’s southern Black Sea coast.

Ihor Terekhov, Kharkiv’s Mayor, said that the attackers struck in the early hours of Thursday. The area had an estimated population of 1.4 million at the time of prewar.

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“The Russian army is randomly shelling Kharkiv, peaceful residential areas, civilians are being killed,” Terekhov said.

The market was filled with desperate shouts from Sabina Pogorelets, who begged Ukrainian police for permission to embrace Adam, her husband. Adam’s body lay partially covered in cloth near a small stall. As policemen pulled Adam’s wife aside, a bloody wound was visible on the head.

“Please! I need to hold his hand!” Pogorelets cried.

A man was nearby, hugging his little girl as other guests stood stunned. At least two people were treated by emergency teams in nearby ambulances.

“People started working little by little, they came out to sell things, and residents came here to buy things,” said Volodymyr Tymoshko, head of the National Police in the Kharkiv region. “And exactly this place was hit by “Uragan” rockets with cluster bombs to maximize the damage to people.”

Cluster bombs claims cannot be independently verified. AP journalists on-site saw flamed out cars and a bus pierced with shrapnel.

Oleh Syniehubov (the Kharkiv regionial Governor) said that four people are in serious condition, and that a child was also among the victims of the shelling. He also said the Russians had set fire to wheat fields by shelling them.

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Officials in Ukraine said that Russian troops shelled Mykolaiv, the south-eastern city, overnight. They also attacked the Kramatorsk, Kostiantynivka and Kramatorsk eastern cities. Two schools were damaged. A man’s body was recovered from the rubble of the school in Kramatorsk and emergency workers say two more people are feared trapped under the ruins.

The scattered attacks illustrate broader war aims beyond Russia’s previously declared focus on the Donbas region’s Donetsk and Luhansk provinces, which pro-Moscow separatists have partly controlled since 2014.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated Wednesday to state-controlled RT TV and the RIA Novosti news agencies that Russia intends to keep control of more territory. This includes the Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions in the southern Ukraine. Moscow’s current strategy also envisions making gains elsewhere, Lavrov said.

According to analysts from the Institute for the Study of War (a Washington think tank), the Russian offensive against Donetsk might result in the destruction of Bakhmut or Sloviansk. But they noted that “Russian troops are now struggling to move across relatively sparsely-settled and open terrain. They will encounter terrain much more conducive to the Ukrainian defenders.”

Ukraine’s military reported Thursday that Russian forces attempted to storm the Vuhlehirska power station in the Donetsk region, but said “Ukrainian defenders made the enemy resort to fleeing.” Ukraine forces on Wednesday struck a key bridge on the Dnieper River for the second time in as many days, apparently trying to loosen Russia’s grip on the southern Kherson region.

“Russia is prioritizing the capture of critical national infrastructure, such as power plants,” the British Defense Ministry said Thursday. “However, it is probably also attempting to break through at Vuhlehirska, as part of its efforts to regain momentum on the southern pincer of its advance towards the key cities of Kramatorsk and Sloviansk.”

Governor Serhiy Haidai stated that fighting continues in Luhansk near Donetsk.

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