Deadly shelling strikes Zaporizhzhia as Ukraine responds to report it was behind Moscow car bombing

A Russian missile demolished an apartment block in the Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia, as the Ukrainian military forged ahead with its drive to recapture land in the south and east. Meanwhile, the Kremlin and Kyiv reacted to a New York Times report on a car bomb attack in Moscow last August.

Kremlin pleased with U.S. report on Darya Dugina, but elsewhere its military leaders are taking heat

At least 1 person dead in Russian bombardment in Zaporizhzhia

4 months ago
Duration 4:05
A salvo of seven Russian missiles hit a residential area of Zaporizhzhia early Thursday morning. The city is near the front lines of Ukraine's counteroffensive against Russian forces.

A missile demolished an apartment block on Thursday in a Ukrainian region that Moscow says it has annexed, killing seven people, a Ukrainian official said, as discontent mounted within Russia about the handling of the war by the top brass.

Firefighters rushed through the streets of Zaporizhzhia  to tackle the blazes after the overnight attack, and more explosions were heard on Thursday morning in what local officials said was a renewed Russian strike.

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-story apartment block used to stand next to a wine shop.

A Ukrainian firefighter is shown amid the rubble from a fire after a strike in Zaporizhzhia on Thursday. (Marina Moiseyenko/AFP/Getty Images)

Twelve people were wounded, including a three-year-old child, and five were still under the rubble, said Oleksandr Starukh, the governor of Zaporizhzhia region.

'Can you bring my son back to life?'

Anatoly Dzyuba sat on a curb nearby, rocking back and forth, clutching his hands. His 33-year-old son, Oleksandr, lives on the second floor of the building. At the time of the missile strike, his son was at home with his wife and her parents, with all four presumed dead. 

Dzyuba told CBC News he rushed to the apartment building shortly after the attack, but quickly realized there was nothing left of his son's floor. 

"Can you bring my son back to life?" he pleaded.

Anatoly Dzyuba rushed to the scene of the Zaporizhzhia attack on Thursday. Dzyuba believes his son and daughter-in-law were killed in the attack. (Corinne Seminoff/CBC)

Antonina Nosach wiped tears from her eyes as she stood beside two shovels and a large plastic bin she brought with her to help with cleanup. She lives 65 kilometres away in Orekhiv, but drove into Zaporizhzhia this morning after hearing about the attack.

"It is scary, of course, when they indiscriminately hit houses where people live," she told CBC. "This is our home. How can we react to this?"

Public criticism emerging

There was no immediate comment from Russia, whose invasion of Ukraine has begun to unravel after a Ukrainian counter-offensive in which thousands of square kilometres of territory have been retaken since the start of September, including dozens of settlements in recent days.

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 officials, once taboo, is growing.

A Russian-installed official in Ukraine poured scorn on Moscow's generals on Thursday and suggested its defence minister should shoot himself because of failures in the Ukraine conflict.

In a four-minute video message, Kirill Stremousov, the Russian-installed deputy head of the annexed Kherson region, publicly scolded the "generals and ministers" in Moscow for failing to understand the problems on the front.

"Indeed, many say: if they were a defence minister who had allowed such a state of affairs, they could, as officers, have shot themselves," Stremousov said. "But you know the word 'officer' is an incomprehensible word for many."

It follows criticism earlier this week of the defence ministry by a loyalist state TV host.

"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 live stream channel.

Kirill Stremousov, deputy head of the Russian-backed Kherson administration, is pictured in his office on July 20, with a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin seen on the wall behind him. Stremousov offered a rare public rebuke of Russian military leadership on Thursday. (AFP/Getty Images)

The attack came just a day after President Vladimir Putin signed a law to incorporate four partially occupied regions, which represent about 18 per cent of Ukraine's territory, into Russia.

Russia moved to annex the four regions after holding what it called referendum votes that were denounced by Kyiv and Western governments as illegal and coercive.

Ukraine denies car bomb involvement

Mykhailo Podolyak, a Ukrainian presidential adviser, told Reuters on Thursday that Darya Dugina had been of no interest to Kyiv before she was killed in an August car bomb attack near Moscow.

Podolyak's comments came after a New York Times report on Wednesday indicated that U.S. intelligence agencies believe parts of the Ukrainian government approved that attack.

Reuters could not immediately verify the Times report.

"Objectively speaking, Dugina was really never of any interest to Ukraine," he wrote on WhatsApp in response to a Reuters request for comment.

"Before Dugina's murder, the people of Ukraine and representatives of the Ukrainian authorities did not know about her public activities and her influence on propaganda programs.

"In our opinion, the key beneficiary of Dugina's murder was certain Russian radical supporters of the war [in Ukraine]. Including a section of the [Russian] special services."

But the Times reported that some U.S. officials suspected Dugina's father, Alexander Dugin, a vocal supporter of what Russia calls its "special military operation" in Ukraine, was the actual target of the assassination.

Prominent Russian commentator Alexander Dugin, centre, is seen at an Aug. 23 ceremony in Moscow in tribute to his daughter Daria Dugina. (Kirill Kudryavtsev/Getty Images)

Some friends of the family told media outlets in the aftermath of the killing that they believed Dugin was the target of the attack and that the pair were due to travel in the same Toyota Land Cruiser that was targeted until a last minute change of plan.

In Moscow, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said that Russian intelligence had always argued that Ukraine was behind the August killing of Dugina so it was "positive" that the United States appeared to share that assessment.

The U.S. took no part in the attack on Dugina and was not aware of it ahead of time, the Times reported. American officials admonished Ukrainian officials over the assassination, the Times said.

Zelenskyy calls for NATO strikes 

In an online address to new security and energy co-operation forum the European Political Community, Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused Russia of deliberately targeting the same spot twice in succession.

"In Zaporizhzhia, after the first rocket strike today, when people came to pick apart the rubble, Russia conducted a second rocket strike. Absolute vileness, absolute evil."

Moscow says it does not deliberately target civilians.

In remarks to Australia's Lowy Institute, Zelenskyy said NATO should launch preventive strikes on Russia to preclude its use of nuclear weapons. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denounced the comments as "an appeal to start yet another world war with unpredictable, monstrous consequences," according to RIA news agency.

LISTEN | CBC's Front Burner on the Dugina attack, Aug. 26: 
On Saturday, a car bomb killed pro-war Russian commentator Darya Dugina on the outskirts of Moscow. Dugina was the daughter of ultranationalist philosopher Alexander Dugin, whose influence on Russian President Vladimir Putin is widely debated — leading to speculation the bomb was meant for Dugin himself. Today on Front Burner, The Guardian's Moscow correspondent Andrew Roth explains who Dugin is, the competing theories for who was responsible for the car bombing, and what impact the attack could have on how the war in Ukraine is fought.

With files from Briar Stewart of CBC News