Explosions rocked the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv on Saturday, the mayor said, at the end of a week in which Russian missiles slammed into a building and a shopping mall in other towns , killing dozens of people.
Air raid sirens sounded in the Mykolaiv region, which borders the vital Black Sea port of Odessa.
“There are powerful explosions in the city! Stay in the shelters!” Mykolaiv Mayor Oleksandr Senkevych wrote on the Telegram messaging app.
The cause of the blasts was not immediately clear, although Russia said on Saturday it had hit army command posts in the area. Reuters could not independently verify the information.
Kyiv says Moscow stepped up missile attacks on targets away from the front line and deliberately hit civilian sites while Russian forces racked up gains on the battlefield to the east, hammering the urban areas with artillery.
Russia says it targeted military sites and denies targeting civilians. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said “Russian armed forces do not work with civilian targets.”
A building was partially razed in Odessa on Friday, which authorities said killed at least 21 people, following Monday’s strike at a shopping center in the central city of Kremenchuk which authorities said killed at least 19 dead.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy denounced the strikes in his Friday night video address as “conscious and deliberately targeted Russian terror and not some kind of mistake or chance missile strike.”
The Russian Defense Ministry said on Saturday it destroyed Ukrainian army posts in Mykolaiv and the eastern Donbass region with high-precision weapons and struck other army-related sites in the region. south of Zaporizhzhia and in Kharkiv in the north, Russian news agencies reported.
Thousands of civilians have been killed since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 in what Moscow calls a “special military operation” to eradicate nationalists. Ukraine and its Western allies say this is an unprovoked war of aggression.
day of mourning
Residents of the seaside village of Serhiivka, near Odessa, helped workers excavate the rubble of the nine-storey building, part of which was destroyed during Friday’s strike.
“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.
The region will observe a day of mourning on Saturday.
The Serhiivka strike came shortly after Russia withdrew from Snake Island, a strategic Black Sea outcrop about 140 km (85 miles) southeast of Odessa seized on the first day of the war.
Russia had used Snake Island to blockade Ukraine, one of the world’s largest grain exporters and a major producer of seeds for vegetable oils. The disruptions have helped fuel a spike in global grain and food prices.
Russia, also a major grain producer, denies causing the food crisis, blaming Western sanctions for hurting its exports.
Putin met with the Indonesian president on Thursday and spoke by phone with the Indian prime minister on Friday, promising the two major food importers that Russia would continue to supply grain.
As the missiles struck Ukrainian towns, Russian forces to the east slowly advanced on the ground, raining shells down on Ukrainian forces struggling to hold urban centers. Moscow aims to drive Ukraine out of Luhansk and Donetsk provinces, which make up the industrial region known as Donbass.
Moscow has been on the verge of capturing Luhansk province since capturing the city of Sievierodonetsk last week after some of the heaviest fighting of the war.
Ukraine’s last stronghold in Luhansk is Lysychansk, which is about to be surrounded by Russian artillery barrages.
“Private houses in the attacked villages are burning one by one,” Luhansk Governor Serhiy Gaidai said on Telegram, adding that the shelling had prevented Lysychansk residents from putting out the fires.
The Donetsk region governor said four civilians were killed by shelling on Friday and 12 injured.
The Ukrainian army on Friday reported widespread Russian shelling, including on Kharkiv in the north and on Ukrainian positions in the border areas of Sumy and Chernihiv.
Zelenskyy said more weapons were needed in eastern and southern Ukraine. The United States said it was sending two NASAMS surface-to-air missile systems, four additional counter-artillery radars and munitions in its latest delivery.