At least 12 people have been killed in overnight Russian missile attacks in the Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia, according to Ukrainian officials, in the latest attack that President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called “absolute evil”.
Zelenskyy and regional official Oleksandr Starukh provided a death toll of 12, with the latter saying that more victims may be under the rubble as a search and rescue operation was launched.
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“Zaporizhzhia again. Merciless strikes on peaceful people again. On residential buildings, just in the middle of the night,” Zelenskyy said on Telegram of Sunday’s attack, adding that 49 people including six children were in hospital.
“Absolute meanness. Absolute evil. Savages and terrorists. From the one who gave this order to everyone who fulfilled this order. They will bear responsibility. For sure. Before the law and before people.”
Earlier, Anatoliy Kurtev, secretary of Zaporizhzhia city council, said 17 were killed in missiles attacks. “After night missile attack on Zaporizhzhia, at least 20 houses and about 50 multi-storey buildings were damaged,’ he wrote on Telegram on Sunday.
Al Jazeera could not independently verify the casualty figures.
The attack came after an explosion on Saturday caused the partial collapse of a bridge linking the Crimean Peninsula with Russia, damaging an important supply artery for the Kremlin’s faltering war effort in southern Ukraine and hitting a symbol of Russian power in the region.
Ukrainian officials said the overnight shelling targeted houses and apartment buildings in the southern city, which has been at the receiving end of Russian attacks in recent weeks.
At least 14 people died in a Russian missile attack on apartment buildings in Zaporizhzhia on Thursday, while 30 people were killed last week when a convoy of civilian cars was shelled in an attack blamed on Russia.
Al Jazeera’s Rory Challands, reporting from Kyiv, said the city has been “pounded repeatedly” over recent days by Russian air raids and missile attacks.
“It’s indiscriminate at best, at worst, it seems intentional,” he added. “The authorities in Zaporizhzhia say that the Russian aeroplanes launched at least 12 missiles at the city.”
Zaporizhzhia, home to Europe’s largest nuclear plant, lies close to the front line where Kyiv’s forces have been carrying out a large-scale counteroffensive against Russian troops.
The Ukrainian-controlled industrial city is located in the eponymous Zaporizhia region, also home to the Russian-occupied nuclear plant that has been the site of heavy shelling. Both sides have blamed each other for the shelling around the plant amid fears of a radiation accident.
The International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, said on Saturday that the Zaporizhzhia plant has since lost its last remaining external power source as a result of renewed shelling and is now relying on emergency diesel generators.
Russia is under increasing pressure on the battlefield in Ukraine, where Ukrainian forces continue to push forward in a counteroffensive that began in the Kharkiv region at the beginning of last month.
Zelenskyy also said Ukrainian forces advanced or held the line in the east and south, but acknowledged “very, very difficult, very tough fighting” around the city of Bakhmut in the eastern Donetsk region, where Russian forces have claimed recent gains.
While Russia seized areas north of Crimea early in its invasion of Ukraine and built a land corridor to it along the Sea of Azov, Ukraine is pressing a counteroffensive to reclaim that territory. That Russian-held territory along the sea includes the Zaporizhia region.
On Saturday, Moscow announced a new commander for the war, air force chief Sergey Surovikin, after last month announcing the annexation of four occupied areas, in breach of international law, and the mobilisation of some 300,000 reservists.