Russian missiles hit apartment buildings in the southern Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia on Thursday, a local official said, killing three people and wounding at least 12 in a region that houses Europe's biggest nuclear power plant and which Moscow has illegally annexed.
The two strikes, the first before dawn and another in the morning, damaged more than 40 buildings, authorities said.
The attacks came hours after Ukraine's president announced that his military had retaken three more villages in another of the four regions annexed by Russia, Moscow's latest battlefield reversal.
The Zaporizhzhia regional governor, Oleksandr Starukh wrote on Telegram that many people were rescued from the multi-storey buildings, including a three-year-old girl who was taken to a hospital.
Photos provided by the Emergency Service of Ukraine showed rescuers scrambling through the wreckage of a building looking for survivors.
“ Absolute meanness. Absolute evil," Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskky said of the attacks, in a video speech to the inaugural summit of the European Political Community in Prague. "There have already been thousands of manifestations of such evil. Unfortunately, there may be thousands more.”
Zaporizhzhia is one of the regions of Ukraine that Russian President Vladimir Putin has claimed as Russian territory in violation of international laws. The region is home to a sprawling nuclear power plant that is under Russian occupation but the city of the same name remains under Ukrainian control.
The head of the UN's atomic energy watchdog is expected to visit Kyiv this week to discuss the situation at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant after Putin signed a decree Wednesday declaring that Russia was taking over the six-reactor facility.
Ukraine's Foreign Ministry called the move a criminal act and said it considered Putin's decree null and void. Ukraine's state nuclear operator, Energoatom, said it would continue to operate the plant, whose last operating reactor was shut down on September 11 because of frequent outages of external power needed to run critical safety systems. Transmission lines to the plant were repeatedly shelled.
Rafael Grossi, the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, plans to discuss efforts to set up a secure protection zone around the nuclear power station, which has been damaged during the war in Ukraine and seen staff, including its director, abducted by Russian troops.
After visiting Ukraine, Grossi plans to travel to Moscow for talks with Russian officials.
The precise borders of the areas in Ukraine that Moscow is claiming remain unclear. Putin has vowed to defend Russia's territory including the annexed Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia regions of Ukraine with any means at his military's disposal, including nuclear weapons.
The deputy head of the Ukraine president's office, Kyrylo Tymoshenko said, “10 people were killed in the latest Russian attacks in the Dnipro, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions. It was not clear if that number included those killed in the morning strikes in Zaporizhzhia.”
Ukrainian forces are seizing back villages in Kherson in humiliating battlefield defeats for Russian forces that have badly dented the image of a powerful Russian military and added to the tensions surrounding an ill-planned Russian troop mobilization.