Russian troops told to 'further intensify' efforts in Ukraine

Russian forces fired missiles and shells at cities and towns across Ukraine on Saturday after Russia's military announced it was stepping up its onslaught against its neighbour. Ukrainian officials reported at least 17 more civilians killed.

Ukrainian officials reported on Saturday at least 17 more civilians killed

Russian forces fired missiles and shells at cities and towns across Ukraine on Saturday after Russia's military announced it was stepping up its onslaught against its neighbour.

Ukrainian officials reported at least 17 more civilians killed.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu gave "instructions to further intensify the actions of units in all operational areas, in order to exclude the possibility of the Kyiv regime launching massive rocket and artillery strikes on civilian infrastructure and residents of settlements in the Donbas and other regions," his ministry said Saturday.

Russia's military campaign has been focusing on the eastern Donbas, but the new attacks hit areas in the north and south as well.

Kharkiv, Ukraine's second largest city, has seen especially severe bombardments in recent days, with Ukrainian officials and local commanders voicing fears a second full-scale Russian assault on the northern city may be looming.

A teacher walks near a school destroyed by a military strike in Chuhuiv, in Ukraine's northeastern Kharkiv region, on Saturday. (Nacho Doce/Reuters)

At least three civilians were killed and three were injured Saturday in a pre-dawn Russian rocket strike on the northern Ukrainian city of Chuhuiv, which is close to Kharkiv and only 120 kilometres from the Russian border, a regional police chief said.

Serhiy Bolvinov, the deputy head of Kharkiv's regional police force, said the rockets partly destroyed a two-storey apartment building.

"Four Russian rockets, presumably fired from around (the Russian city of) Belgorod at night, at about 3:30 a.m., hit a residential building, a school and administrative buildings," Bolvinov wrote on Facebook. He said the bodies of the three dead civilians were found under the rubble.

In the neighbouring Sumy region, one civilian was killed and at least seven more were injured after Russians opened mortar and artillery fire on three towns and villages not far from the Russian border, regional governor Dmytro Zhyvytsky said Saturday on Telegram.

In the embattled eastern Donetsk region, seven civilians were killed and 14 wounded in the last 24 hours in attacks on cities, its governor said Saturday.

Later in the day, on the outskirts of Pokrovsk, a city in the Donetsk region, a woman said a neighbour was killed by a rocket attack Saturday afternoon. Tetiana Pashko said she herself suffered a cut on her leg and one of her family's dogs was killed.

In the neighbouring Luhansk region, however, Ukrainian troops repelled a Russian overnight assault on a strategic eastern highway, said Gov. Serhiy Haidai, adding that Russia had been attempting to capture the main road between the cities of Lysychansk and Bakhmut for more than two months.

"They still cannot control several kilometres of this road," Haidai wrote in a Telegram post.

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The Luhansk and Donetsk regions make up the Donbas, an eastern industrial region that used to power Ukraine's economy and has mostly been taken over by Russian and separatist forces.

In Ukraine's south, two people were wounded by Russian shelling in the town of Bashtanka, northeast of the Black Sea city of Mykolaiv, according to the regional governor, Vitaliy Kim.

He said Mykolaiv itself came under renewed Russian fire before dawn Saturday. On Friday, he posted videos of what he said was a Russian missile attack on the city's two largest universities and denounced Russia as "a terrorist state."

Smoke rises from a fire following a missile strike in the southern Ukrainian city of Odesa on Saturday. (Oleksandr Gimanov/AFP/Getty Images)

In Odesa, a port city on the Black Sea, a Russian missile hit a warehouse, engulfing it in flames and sending up a plume of black smoke, but no injuries were reported, local officials said.

Two people were killed and a woman was hospitalized after a Russian rocket strike on the eastern riverside city of Nikopol, emergency services said. Dnipro's governor, Valentyn Reznichenko, said a five-storey apartment block, a school and a vocational school building were damaged.

The Ukrainian air force said Russian forces fired six more cruise missiles on Saturday from strategic bombers in the Caspian Sea, and two hit a farm in the Cherkasy region along the Dnieper River. No one was hurt, but agricultural equipment was destroyed and some cattle were killed, regional Gov. Ihor Taburets said. The Ukrainian air force said the other four missiles were intercepted.