Russian missiles have hit an apartment building and a resort near Ukraine’s Black Sea port of Odesa, killing at least 19 people, according to Ukrainian officials.
Dozens more were also wounded in the early morning attack on Friday, which came amid an uptick in missile strikes across Ukraine over the past two weeks.
Ukrainian military officials have accused Russia of using inaccurate Soviet-era missiles in many of the recent strikes, which have included an attack on a shopping centre in the central city of Kremenchuk that killed 18 on Monday and a deadly strike in Kyiv on Sunday that broke weeks of relative calm in the capital city.
The Ukrainian emergencies ministry said on Friday one missile struck a nine-storey building in the village of Serhiivka at 1am local time on Friday (22:00 GMT on Thursday). The attack caused a fire in an attached building, according to the ministry.
A spokesperson for the Odesa regional administration, Serhiy Bratchuk, told Ukrainian state television a rescue operation was under way as some people remained buried under the rubble after part of the building collapsed.
Meanwhile, Bratchuk said another missile hit a resort facility in the area, killing at least three people including a child and wounding one more person.
Ukraine’s Security Service said 19 people were killed, including two children. It said another 38, including six children and a pregnant woman, were hospitalized with injuries. Most of the victims were in the apartment building, Ukrainian emergency officials said.
“A terrorist country is killing our people. In response to defeats on the battlefield, they fight civilians,” Andriy Yermak, the chief of staff to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said.
The Kremlin denied targeting civilians.
“I would like to remind you of the president’s words that the Russian Armed Forces do not work with civilian targets,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
Al Jazeera’s Alan Fisher, reporting from Kyiv, said rescue efforts were ongoing.
“The worst-affected building was a nine-storey apartment block, part of which collapsed,” he said.
“The big concern of course is that because of [previous] air raids many people had opted to spend the night in the basement of buildings, but when buildings collapse that means they can be trapped and that is why since very early this morning there has been a rescue operation at the site [of the collapsed apartment block,” Fisher added.
“People are removing the rubble by hand, and digging down to see if there are other lives they can save.”
Germany on Friday condemned attacks, with a government spokesperson telling reporters Russian President Vladimir Putin and “those responsible will have to be held accountable”.
The deaths add to the more than 4,700 civilians the United Nations has recorded killed since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24. The figure, which is estimated to be considerably higher, includes at least 350 children.
The Odesa attacks occurred shortly after Russia on Thursday said it would withdraw its troops from Snake Island, a strategically significant Black Sea outcrop Russia captured in the early stages of the invasion.
Moscow called the withdrawal a “gesture of goodwill” meant to show it is not obstructing United Nations attempts to open a corridor to transport grain from Ukraine amid a continuing global food crisis exacerbated by the invasion.
Ukraine, meanwhile, said it had driven Russian forces from the island after an artillery and missile assault, with Zelenskyy hailing the strategic win, saying it “significantly limits the actions of the occupiers”.
Meanwhile, in the east, Ukrainian forces were struggling to hold the city of Lysychansk amid a Russian artillery offensive, regional governor Serhiy Haidai said on Ukrainian television.
Russian forces have been trying to encircle the city since capturing nearby Severodonetsk last week.
Zelenskyy has said the Russian offensive shows the “superiority in firepower of the occupiers” as he continued to appeal for more modern artillery from Western allies.
Following back-to-back meetings of Group of Seven (G7) and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) leaders last week, those allies pledged to continue support for Ukraine as long as it takes, framing Russia’s invasion as a wider threat to peace and stability in Europe and beyond.
On Thursday, President Joe Biden said the US would soon announce an additional $800m in weapons aid to Ukraine, bringing the total in US funds to Ukraine since he took office in January 2021 to nearly $7bn.
Putin has accused Western leaders of having “imperial” ambitions in their focus on countering Russia.