KHARKIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian shelling pounded a densely populated area of Ukraine’s second-largest city on Thursday, killing at least three people and injuring at least 23 others with a barrage that hit a mosque, an establishment medical and a commercial area, according to officials and witnesses.
Police in the northeastern city of Kharkiv said cluster bombs hit the Barabashovo market, where Associated Press reporters saw a woman crying over the body of her dead husband . Local officials said the shelling also hit a bus stop, a gym and a residential building.
The bombardment came after Russia on Wednesday reiterated its intention to seize territory beyond eastern Ukraine., where the Russian army spent months trying to conquer the Donbass region, south of Kharkiv. He also followed Ukrainian attacks this week on a bridge the Russians used to supply their forces in occupied areas near Ukraine’s southern Black Sea coast.
Kharkiv Mayor Ihor Terekhov said Thursday morning’s attacks targeted one of the most populated areas of the city, which had around 1.4 million residents before the war.
“The Russian army is randomly bombing Kharkiv, peaceful residential areas. Civilians are being killed,” Terekhov said.
At the market, Sabina Pogorelets’ desperate cries pierced the air as she begged Ukrainian police to let her kiss her husband, Adam, a vendor whose body lay partly covered in fabric next to a small stall. A bloody wound could be seen on his head as officers gently pulled his wife away so medical workers could take her body away.
“Please! I have to hold her hand!” The pogorelets wept.
Nearby, a man hugged his baby girl as he and other visitors were in shock. Emergency teams treated at least two of the injured in nearby ambulances.
“People started working little by little, they went out to sell things, and locals came here to buy things,” said Volodymyr Timochko, national police chief in the Kharkiv region. “And exactly this place was hit by Uragan rockets with cluster bombs to maximize the damage to people.”
The cluster bomb allegation could not be independently confirmed. AP journalists present at the scene saw burnt cars and a bus pierced by shrapnel.
Kharkiv Regional Governor Oleh Syniehubov said four people were in serious condition and a child was among those injured in the shelling. Russian forces also shelled wheat fields, setting them on fire, he said.
Elsewhere, Russian forces shelled the southern city of Mykolaiv overnight as well as the eastern towns of Kramatorsk and Kostiantynivka, where two schools were destroyed, Ukrainian officials said. The body of a man was found in the rubble of the Kramatorsk school, and rescuers say two other people were believed to have been trapped there.
Scattered Attacks Illustrate Broader War Goals beyond Russia’s previously stated focus on Donetsk and Luhansk provinces of the Donbass region, which pro-Moscow separatists have partly controlled since 2014.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Russian news outlets on Wednesday that Russia plans to retain control over more territory, including the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions of southern Ukraine. Moscow is also considering making gains elsewhere, Lavrov said.
Analysts at the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said the Russian offensive in Donetsk was likely to stall before reaching the cities of Sloviansk and Bakhmut. “Russian troops are now finding it difficult to move through relatively sparsely populated and open terrain. They will encounter much more fertile ground for Ukrainian defenders,” their assessment said.
Richard Moore, head of Britain’s foreign intelligence agency MI6, had a similar view, saying the Russians “are about to run out of steam” in Ukraine.
“They’ll have to take a break one way or another, and that will give the Ukrainians a chance to fight back,” Moore said.
He said it was important for Ukraine to demonstrate its ability to respond militarily to Russia, both to maintain morale and as “an important reminder to the rest of Europe that this is a winnable campaign for the Ukrainians, as we are about to enter a rather harsh winter.
The Ukrainian military reported on Thursday that Russian forces tried to storm the Vuhlehirska power plant in the Donetsk region, but said “Ukrainian defenders forced the enemy to flee”.
In other developments Thursday:
— The operator of a major gas pipeline linking Russia to Europe says natural gas has started flowing again after a 10-day shutdown for maintenance. But gas flow was well below full capacity and the outlook was uncertain. The Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline to Germany had been closed since July 11 for annual maintenance. The pipeline is Germany’s main source of Russian gas. German officials feared the pipeline would not reopen at all amid growing tensions over Russia’s war in Ukraine.
– Turkish officials said an agreement on a UN plan to unblock Ukrainian grain exports and allow Russia to export grain and fertilizer will be signed in Istanbul on Friday. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s office said he, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and Russian and Ukrainian officials would oversee the signing ceremony. António Guterres is working on a plan to allow the export of millions of tons of grain stocks blocked in Ukrainian Black Sea ports due to the war. The move could ease a global food crisis that has driven up prices of wheat and other grains. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to comment.
— The Ukrainian nuclear power plant operator claims that Russian forces have placed explosives and weapons in parts of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant where they pose a significant danger. Energoatom said the heavy weapons and explosives were in the building that houses one of the six reactors of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant. “They continue to cynically and absolutely violate all fire, nuclear and radiological safety standards and requirements,” the statement said.
– Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, said Moscow would consider increasing the supply of natural gas to Hungary following an official request from Budapest. He spoke after a meeting in Moscow with Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó. Russian news agencies say Szijjártó has sought to obtain an additional 700 million cubic meters of gas from Russia this year.
– Russia has banned 39 representatives of Australia’s security services and defense companies from entering the country, in response to sanctions imposed by Canberra earlier this year.
This story corrects the War Study’s assessment that Russian forces were unlikely to reach Sloviansk and Bakhmut, not that they could.
Follow AP coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine