RUSSIAN strikes battered cities across Ukraine early Friday, killing at least 12 people in a barrage of missiles and drones that hit as Kyiv prepares an expected counteroffensive.
The deadly attack included a strike on a residential building and came days after the leaders of Ukraine and China spoke by phone, with Chinese President Xi Jinping reportedly advocating peace negotiations.
“Missile strikes killing innocent Ukrainians in their sleep, including a 2-years-old child, is Russia’s response to all peace initiatives,” Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted.
While Russia regularly bombed Ukrainian cities and infrastructure over the winter, the massive strikes had tailed off in recent months.
Kyiv, which was among the cities targeted Friday, had not been hit by missiles in more than 50 days.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky condemned the latest barrage and vowed a response to “Russian terror”.
Most fighting is now taking place in the east for control of the industrial Donbas region, particularly the city of Bakhmut, which has been almost completely destroyed.
Interior Minister Igor Klymenko said strikes on the town of Uman south of the captial Kyiv led to “a total of ten victims,” while the mayor of the central city of Dnipro Borys Filatov earlier reported that two people had been killed.
Ukraine said it had downed 21 of 23 Russian missiles and two attack drones overnight.
Ukraine’s air defence system has been bolstered in recent months by the delivery of Western equipment crucial to the country’s war effort.
In particular, Kyiv received the sophisticated American Patriot systems in April.
While it has not faced missile barrages since early March, the capital was the target last week of an attack by 12 Iranian-made drones, eight of which were shot down without causing any casualties.
China, Ukraine leaders speak
In Uman, a central city of 80,000 inhabitants, a video broadcast by Ukrainian media showed a gutted apartment building, rubble strewn around it.
“An enemy missile hit a residential building. Information about the victims is being clarified,” Zoya Vovk, spokesperson for the regional police, said on Telegram.
According to regional governor Igor Taburets, Uman was hit by two cruise missiles, with one hitting a residential building and the other a warehouse.
Moscow has been seeking allies to confront the West as its war in Ukraine causes immense destruction and suffering but is far from President Vladimir Putin’s goal of capturing control of the country.
Ukraine says it has been preparing for months a counteroffensive aimed at repelling Russian forces from the territory they currently hold in the east and south.
Xi and President Volodymyr Zelensky’s nearly one-hour discussion on Wednesday, which reportedly included Xi advocating peace negotiations, was met by Russian accusations that Ukraine was undermining efforts to end the fighting.
Beijing says it is neutral in the Ukraine conflict and Xi has never condemned the Russian invasion, but the Chinese leader has come under increased pressure from Western nations to step in and mediate.
The Kremlin said Thursday it welcomed any attempt to end the Ukrainian conflict, on Moscow’s terms.
“We are ready to welcome anything that can bring forward the end of the conflict in Ukraine and the achievement of Russia’s goals,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.