Russian shelling on Thursday pounded a densely populated area in Ukraine's second-largest city Kharkiv, killing at least two people and injuring at least 21 with a barrage that struck a mosque, a medical facility and a shopping area, according to officials and witnesses at the scene.
Police in the northeast city of Kharkiv said cluster bombs hit Barabashovo Market, a public bazaar where Associated Press (AP) journalists saw a woman crying over her dead husband’s body. Local officials said the shelling also struck a bus stop, a gym and a residential building.
The bombardment came after Russia on Wednesday reiterated its plans to seize territories beyond eastern Ukraine, where the Russian military has spent months trying to conquer Ukraine's Donbass region, which is south of Kharkiv. Ukrainian officials recently aired their plans to try to recapture Russian-occupied areas near the country's southern Black Sea coast.
Kharkiv Mayor Ihor Terekhov said the attacks early Thursday targeted one of the most crowded areas of the city, which had a prewar population of about 1.4 million.
"The Russian army is randomly shelling Kharkiv, peaceful residential areas, civilians are being killed,” Terekhov said. "Be careful!”
The police claim that cluster bombs hit Barabashovo Market could not be independently confirmed.
The Kharkiv region's governor, Oleh Syniehubov, said four people were in grave condition and a child was among those wounded in the shelling. Russian forces also have shelled wheat fields in the area, setting them on fire, he said.
Elsewhere, Russian forces shelled the southern city of Mykolaiv overnight as well as the eastern cities of Kramatorsk and Kostiantynivka, where two schools were destroyed after a civilian was killed Wednesday, Ukrainian officials said.
As of 8 a.m. Thursday, Russian shelling of cities across Ukraine killed at least five people and wounded at least 17 more in 24 hours, Ukraine’s presidential office reported.
When it invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, Russia quickly seized territory but withdrew from the capital region and north after about six weeks to concentrate on seizing Donetsk and Luhansk, which pro-Moscow separatists have partly controlled since 2014.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told state-controlled RT television and the RIA Novosti news agency in an interview published Wednesday that Russia plans to retain control over more territory, including the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions in the south.
Moscow's current strategy also envisions making gains elsewhere, Lavrov said. His comments indicated the war could flare up rather than wind down in the weeks to come.
With Western countries providing Ukraine with longer-range weapons, Lavrov said Russia’s "geographical tasks will be pushed even further from the current line because we cannot allow the part of Ukraine under control of (Ukrainian President Volodymyr) Zelenskyy or whoever comes to succeed him, to have weapons that will pose a direct threat to our territory and the territories of those republics that have declared their independence.”
The General Staff of Ukraine's military reported Thursday that Russian forces attempted to storm the Vuhlehirska power station in the Donetsk region, but "Ukrainian defenders made the enemy resort to fleeing.” Ukraine forces also 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 Slovyansk.”