Russian missile strike destroys apartment building in Ukraine, killing at least 3
Britain pours cold water on Ukraine fighter jet request, saying pilot training takes at least 3 years
Rescuers combed debris in a city in Eastern Ukraine on Thursday, where an overnight Russian missile strike destroyed an apartment building and damaged nine others, killing at least three people.
The police force said the apartments in the city of Kramatorsk were hit by an Iskander-K tactical missile at 9:45 p.m. local time. Earlier reports had described it as an attack with a rocket.
"Ten apartment buildings were damaged, one partially collapsed. Search and rescue work, which continued all night, is still under way," police said in a statement.
The dead include a husband and wife and a 61-year-old pensioner, whose daughter was still believed to be missing. Eighteen people were also wounded.
The city is close to the front line in Eastern Ukraine, and many residents have fled or regularly hide in cellars, which may have saved lives compared to similar attacks elsewhere. A missile strike on an apartment block in the central city of Dnipro two weeks ago killed at least 44 people.
Exasperated residents sorted through scattered personal belongings, as apartment interiors were visible amid the blasted-out walls from the neighbouring building.
"This is the centre of the city. Only civilians live here, which is why any attempts to justify this are futile at the very least," regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko told Reuters at the scene.
Moscow has denied intentionally targeting civilians.
Kramatorsk is about 55 kilometres northwest of Bakhmut, currently the main focus of fighting in Eastern Ukraine.
Russia taking advantage of troop numbers: analyst
Russia, determined to make progress before Ukraine gets newly promised Western battle tanks and armoured vehicles, has picked up momentum on the battlefield and announced advances north and south of Bakhmut, which has suffered persistent Russian bombardment for months.
"Definite increase has been noted in the offensive operations of the occupiers on the front in the east of our country. The situation has become tougher," Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy wrote on Telegram.
"The enemy is trying to achieve at least something now to show that Russia has some chances on the anniversary of the invasion," he added.
Bakhmut and 10 towns and villages around it came under Russian fire, the Ukrainian military said late on Wednesday.
Russian forces are pushing from both the north and south to encircle Bakhmut, using their superior troop numbers to try to cut it off from re-supply and force the Ukrainians out, Ukrainian military analyst Yevhen Dikiy said.
"This for us is the most difficult scenario," Dikiy told Espreso TV.
"The enemy is able to use its sole resource, which it has in excess, its men," he said, describing a landscape to the northeast of Bakhmut "literally covered with corpses."
Ukraine and its Western allies say Moscow has taken huge losses around Bakhmut, sending in waves of poorly equipped troops, including thousands of convicts recruited from prisons as mercenaries.
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Russian forces are also probing areas of weakness in Ukraine's defences on the western edges of Luhansk region, its governor Serhiy Gaidai told Ukrainian TV on Thursday.
"The amount of shelling has increased, the number of attacks in the direction of Svatove-Kreminna has increased... They are piling up our positions with bodies," Gaidai said.
Reuters could not confirm the battlefield reports.
Fighter jet pilot training takes years: Britain
In a separate tweet early on Thursday, Zelenskyy wrote: "The only way to stop Russian terrorism is to defeat it. By tanks. Fighter jets. Long-range missiles."
Ukraine, which last week secured promises of battle tanks, wants allies to supply fighter jets and missiles.
"We're focused on providing Ukraine the capability that it needs to be effective in its upcoming anticipated counter-offensive in the spring," U.S. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said during a visit to the Philippines on Thursday.
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Moscow says any such deliveries will escalate the conflict but not change its course.
With respect to fighter jets, Britain has said it's not currently practical to send them to Ukraine, given the complexity of the jets and the length of time it takes to train pilots.
"We will continue listening to the Ukrainians and consider what is right for the long term, but — if helpful to understand the situation — the fastest training program for a new pilot is approximately 35 months," the spokesperson for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told reporters on Thursday
"The current [domestic] fast jet training program takes five years," the spokesperson added.
EU notes Ukraine progress on tackling corruption
Meanwhile, Zelenskyy promised more anti-corruption measures ahead of meetings with the European Union.
The vow came as the head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, arrived in Kyiv by train on Thursday along with more than a dozen other senior EU officials, noting on Twitter "notable steps" Ukraine has taken "to meet our recommendations."
Dear <a href="https://twitter.com/ZelenskyyUa?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@ZelenskyyUa</a>, while Ukrainians are fighting to defend our common values, we support your economic security.<br><br>To date, our EU support amounts to €50 billion.<br><br>We are with you on this for the long haul. <a href="https://t.co/tA0cpqjkJG">https://t.co/tA0cpqjkJG</a>—@vonderleyen
Unwilling to admit a country currently at war, the EU is expected to dash Ukraine's hopes of being swiftly allowed membership, underlining the need for more anti-corruption measures.
The EU says it has already earmarked almost 60 billion euros ($87.5 billion Cdn) in aid to Ukraine, but Kyiv's membership bid is expected to take years.
Von der Leyen said on Thursday that an international centre for the prosecution of war crimes that have taken place in Ukraine would be set up in The Hague.