At least 15 people were killed and 24 feared to be buried after Russian missiles hit a city in eastern Ukraine, destroying part of a five-story apartment building, officials said Sunday.
Photos and a video from what appeared to be the aftermath of the attack at Chasiv Yar in Donetsk province, grim rescuers showed up atop a massive rubble. They searched broken bricks, mangled metal wiring and crumbled concrete beams next to a half-collapsed building.
The images were shared by Pavlo Kyrylenko, the governor of Donetsk Oblast in the eastern region of Donbas, and the Interior Ministry.
“The search and rescue operation continues,” Kyrylenko told Ukrainian television. “We have more evidence of Russia’s crimes, that they are shelling residential areas of every community, whether close to the front lines or not.”
Kyrylenko said at least 24 people, including a 9-year-old child, may still be trapped under the wreckage, and rescuers managed to contact two of them, the governor said.
Ukrainian State Emergency Service said So far, 15 people have been killed in the attack.
In the video, heavy machinery can be heard humming as rescuers inspect small crevices in the ruins. Another video Shared by the Ukrainian Interior Ministry, rescuers show white bags containing what appeared to be bodies.
“The Russians have again stormed an apartment building with civilians,” Ukrainian President Andriy Yermak’s chief of staff said. tweeted†
NBC News could not confirm the Ukrainian officials’ version of events.
There was no immediate response from the Kremlin. NBC News contacted the Russian Defense Ministry for comment.
Ukraine has accused Moscow of launching a barrage of rocket attacks on its cities in recent weeks, including last month on a busy shopping center in central Ukraine, targeting civilians.
Although Moscow denies targeting civilians in Ukraine, its forces are behind the heavy bombing of population centers such as Mariupol, Kharkiv and Sievierodonetsk.
Saturday’s rocket attacks, part of Moscow’s drive to capture Ukraine’s industrial heartland in the country’s historically pro-Russian east, came as its forces appeared to be gearing up to intensify its advance westward.
The rocket attack in Chasiv Yar comes as Ukrainian army reported On Sunday, it clashes with Russian troops on the front lines in the east and south.
Military analysts have told NBC News that Russia is likely to escalate its offensive in the east after taking full control of Luhansk province earlier this month, paving the way for the next phase of the invasion.
Luhansk, together with Donetsk Province, forms the eastern industrial heart of the Donbas, which has become the main hub of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion.
Before the February invasion, Moscow-backed separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions fought Ukrainian forces for eight years in a protracted conflict that had claimed thousands of lives and was used by the Kremlin as a starting point to launch the conflict.
After celebrating a big win in Luhansk last week, there were signs that Russia may be gearing up for a decisive new attack on its neighbor.
The British Army said Saturday in his daily update on the situation in Ukraine that Russia was moving its reserve troops from around the country and pooling them near Ukraine for future offensive operations.
It came after the Institute for the Study of Wara US-based military think tank said last week that Russian forces in Ukraine were on an “operational pause” while still conducting limited ground strikes to create conditions for larger offensive operations in the future.
On Thursday, Putin warned that his army “hasn’t really started yet” to fight in Ukraine.