Russia has accused Kyiv of firing three missiles at the city of Belgorod near the Ukraine border in strikes that killed at least three people and damaged dozens of residential buildings, as Moscow claimed its forces captured the eastern city of Lysychansk.
At least 11 apartment buildings and 39 private houses were damaged, including five that were destroyed, Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov posted on the Telegram messaging app.
“I emphasise that this missile attack had been intentionally planned and was launched at the civilian population of Russian cities,” Russian Defence Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said, adding that Russian anti-aircraft defences shot down three Tochka-U cluster missiles launched by Ukrainian nationalists.
“The sound was so strong that I jumped up, I woke up, got very scared and started screaming,” a resident of Belgorod – home to nearly 400,000 people, told Reuters news agency, adding the blasts occurred at about 3am (00:00 GMT)
“The missile hit residential buildings about 20 metres [65 feet] from my house,” the resident said. “All the windows in our house were shattered, the doors came out of alignment.”
Senior Russian lawmaker Andrei Klishas accused Ukraine of shelling Belgorod, some 40km (25 miles) north of the border with Ukraine, and called for a stern response.
“The death of civilians and the destruction of civilian infrastructure in Belgorod are a direct act of aggression on the part of Ukraine and require the most severe – including a military – response,” Klishas wrote on Telegram.
Moscow has accused Kyiv of numerous attacks on Belgorod and other regions bordering Ukraine since Russia’s February 24 invasion.
Ukraine has not claimed responsibility but has described the incidents as payback and “karma” for Russia’s actions.
There was no immediate comment from Ukraine and Reuters could not independently verify the Russian accounts.
“We are trying to piece together exactly what happened through social media reports. Al Jazeera cannot confirm anything that either side is saying at this point,” said Al Jazeera’s Alan Fisher, reporting from Kyiv.
“What appears is that somewhere around 25 missiles were fired towards the airport which is a Russian base in Belgorod. It appears that some of those missiles may have hit a residential area. That’s certainly what the media is saying …” he said.
“This of course comes on the back of a Russian attack last week which hit a shopping centre and then on Friday we saw 21 people killed in Odesa and the Ukrainians were accusing the Russians of deliberately targeting residential areas.”
Attacks on Melitopol
In the Russian-occupied southern Ukrainian city of Melitopol, Ukrainian forces hit a military base with more than 30 strikes on Sunday, the city’s exiled mayor said in a video address on Telegram.
The base had been “taken out of action”, Ivan Fedorov said.
“The Armed Forces of Ukraine do everything to return peaceful life and Ukrainian statehood to Melitopol. All the invaders can do is flee from our city,” he said in a video address published on his Facebook page.
A Moscow-installed official said several private residential houses near the airfield were damaged.
“Shells fell on the territory of the airfield. There were no casualties,” Evgeny Balitsky, head of the Russia-installed council in the southern Zaporizhia region, wrote on Telegram.
The General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said its air force had flown some 15 sorties “in virtually all directions of hostilities”.
“About 20 units of enemy equipment and two field ammunition depots were destroyed.”
Reuters could not immediately verify the accounts.
Thousands of civilians have been killed and cities levelled since Russia invaded in what Ukraine’s Western allies say is an unprovoked war of aggression.
Russia denies targeting civilians in what President Vladimir Putin calls a “special military operation” to demilitarise and “denazify” its neighbour.
‘City on fire’
Russia is focussed on driving Ukrainian forces out of Luhansk and Donetsk provinces in the Donbas, where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Kyiv since Russia’s first military intervention in Ukraine in 2014.
On Sunday, Russia’s defence minister claimed Moscow’s forces had taken control of the last major Ukrainian-held city in Ukraine’s Luhansk province.
Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu told Putin that “as a result of successful military operations, the armed forces of the Russian Federation, together with units of the People’s Militia of the Luhansk People’s Republic, have established full control over the city of Lysychansk”, according to Russian news agencies.
Russian media showed a video of Luhansk militia parading in Lysychansk streets waving flags and cheering, but Ukraine National Guard spokesman Ruslan Muzychuk told Ukrainian television the city remained in Ukrainian hands.
“Now there are fierce battles near Lysychansk, however, fortunately, the city is not surrounded and is under the control of the Ukrainian army,” Muzychuk said.