A Russian missile demolished an apartment block in a Ukrainian region that Moscow says it has annexed, killing at least three people, as discontent mounted inside Russia about the handling of the war by the top brass.
The missile attack on the city of Zaporizhzhia in the southern region of the same name left some people buried under the rubble, the regional governor said on Thursday, and was a reminder of Moscow’s ability to strike targets even at a time when its forces have been pushed back in the south and east.
There was no immediate comment from Russia, whose invasion of Ukraine has begun to unravel after a Ukrainian counteroffensive in which thousands of square miles of territory have been retaken since the start of September, including dozens of settlements in recent days.
In a blow for Moscow, thousands of Russian troops have retreated after the front line crumbled, first in the northeast, and, since the beginning of this week, also in the south.
Public criticism of Russia’s top military brass, once taboo, is mounting after two allies of President Vladimir Putin criticised what they said was the incompetent way the war was being prosecuted.
On Thursday, a Russian-installed official in occupied Ukraine openly mused about the idea of Sergei Shoigu, the defence minister and an ally of Putin, shooting himself for his military failures.
“Indeed, many say: if they were a defence minister who had allowed such a state of affairs, they could, as officers, have shot themselves,” Kirill Stremousov, the deputy head of the Russian-installed administration in Ukraine’s Kherson region, said in a video.
“But you know the word ‘officer’ is an incomprehensible word for many.”
There was no immediate comment from the defence ministry.
Images of the aftermath of Thursday’s missile strike, which took place in the early hours of the morning, showed a gaping, rubble-strewn hole where a terracotta-coloured five-storey apartment block used to stand next to a wine shop.
Reuters reporters saw firefighters bringing a father and son down a long ladder and talking to an older man still trapped under rubble and covered in dust.
Eduard, a 49-year-old man who survived the attack said he was woken up at around five in the morning by a strong explosion. “The room filled with smoke and dust. I jumped up to go see what had happened,” he said.
Twelve people were wounded, including a three-year-old child, and five were still under the rubble, said Oleksandr Starukh, the governor.
“Overnight, seven Russian missiles have hit people sleeping peacefully at their homes in Zaporizhzhia,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Twitter.
“More have struck during the day. Russians keep deliberately striking civilians to sow fear.”
Moscow says it does not deliberately target civilians even though its actions have left residential areas across Ukraine devastated.
The missile attack came a day after Putin signed a law to incorporate four partially occupied Ukrainian regions into Russia, including Zaporizhzhia, in Europe’s biggest attempted annexation since World War Two.
Kyiv called the new law, which seeks to incorporate about 18% of Ukraine’s territory into Russia, the act of a “collective madhouse”.
Russia moved to annex the four regions after holding what it called referendums – votes that were denounced by Kyiv and Western governments as illegal and coercive.
‘WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?’
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a late night address on Wednesday that his army had retaken more settlements in the southern Kherson region.
Switching from Ukrainian to Russian, Zelenskiy addressed pro-Moscow forces, telling them they had already lost.
“Ukrainians know what they are fighting for. And more and more citizens of Russia are realizing that they must die simply because one person does not want to end the war,” he said, in a reference to Putin.
Footage released by the Ukrainian army in Kherson showed a Russian infantry fighting vehicle with a white piece of fabric wrapped around its gun barrel surrendering to Ukrainian troops and its three-man Russian crew falling to their knees as a group of Ukrainian soldiers covered them with their guns.
Ukraine’s military in the south said its forces had killed at least 58 Russian fighters, destroyed nine tanks, 17 armoured vehicles and four howitzers.
Reuters could not immediately verify the reports.
Stremousov, the Russian-installed official in Kherson, said that Ukraine’s advance in the area had been halted and said what he called a decision to regroup had saved the lives of Russian troops.
Discontent with the leadership of the Russian defence ministry has begun to bubble up among even loyalist state TV hosts after the reversals.
“Please explain to me what the general staff’s genius idea is now? Vladimir Solovyov, one of the most prominent Russian talk show hosts, said on his livestream channel.
“Do you think time is on our side? They (the Ukrainians) have hugely increased their amount of weapons… But what have you done in that time?”