KHARKIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian shelling pounded a densely populated area in Ukraine's second-largest city Thursday, killing at least two people and injuring at least 21 with a barrage that struck a mosque, a medical facility and a shopping area, according to officials and witnesses at the scene.
Police in the northeast city of Kharkiv said cluster bombs hit Barabashovo Market. a public bazaar where Associated Press journalists saw a woman crying over her dead husband’s body. Local officials said the shelling also struck a bus stop, a gym and a residential building.
The bombardment came after Russia on Wednesday reiterated its plans to seize territories beyond eastern Ukraine, where the Russian military has spent months trying to conquer Ukraine's Donbas region, which is south of Kharkiv. Ukrainian officials recently aired their plans to try to recapture Russian-occupied areas near the country's southern Black Sea coast.
Kharkiv Mayor Ihor Terekhov said the attacks early Thursday targeted one of the most crowded areas of the city, which had a prewar population of about 1.4 million.
“The Russian army is randomly shelling Kharkiv, peaceful residential areas, civilians are being killed,” Terekhov said. “Be careful!”
The police claim that cluster bombs hit Barabashovo Market could not be independently confirmed. The AP journalists at the scene shortly after the attack reported seeing burned-out cards and a bus pierced by shrapnel.
The Kharkiv region's governor, Oleh Syniehubov, said four people were in grave condition and a child was among those wounded in the shelling. Russian forces also have shelled wheat fields in the area, setting them on fire, he said.
Elsewhere, Russian forces shelled the southern city of Mykolaiv overnight as well as the eastern cities of Kramatorsk and Kostiantynivka, where two schools were destroyed after a civilian was killed Wednesday, Ukrainian officials said.
As of 8 a.m. Thursday, Russian shelling of cities across Ukraine killed at least five people and wounded at least 17 more in 24 hours, Ukraine’s presidential office reported.
The scattered attacks illustrate broader war aims beyond Russia's previously declared focus on the Donbas region's Donetsk and Luhansk provinces, where front line battles mostly unfolded in recent weeks.
When it invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, Russia quickly seized territory but withdrew from the capital region and north after about six weeks to concentrate on seizing Donetsk and Luhansk, which pro-Moscow separatists have partly controlled since 2014.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told state-controlled RT television and the RIA Novosti news agency in an interview published Wednesday that Russia plans to retain control over more territory, including the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions in the south.
Moscow's current strategy also envisions making gains elsewhere, Lavrov said. His comments indicated the war could flare up rather than wind down in the weeks to come.
With Western countries providing Ukraine with longer-range weapons, Lavrov said Russia’s “geographical tasks will be pushed even further from the current line because we cannot allow the part of Ukraine under control of (Ukrainian President Volodymyr) Zelenskyy or whoever comes to succeed him, to have weapons that will pose a direct threat to our territory and the territories of those republics that have declared their independence.”
Analysts from the Institute for the Study of War, a think tank based in Washington, said they think the current Russian offensive in Donetsk may result in the capture of the cities of Sloviansk or Bakhmut, though Moscow's troops have have not yet made “meaningful” progress.
The think tank's latest analysis t also noted that “Russian troops are now struggling to move across relatively sparsely-settled and open terrain. They will encounter terrain much more conducive to the Ukrainian defenders,” the Institute’s most recent analysis said.
The General Staff of Ukraine's military reported Thursday that Russian forces attempted to storm the Vuhlehirska power station in the Donetsk region, but “Ukrainian defenders made the enemy resort to fleeing.” Ukraine forces also on Wednesday struck a key bridge on the Dnieper River for the second time in as many days, apparently trying to loosen Russia’s grip on the southern Kherson region.
“Russia is prioritizing the capture of critical national infrastructure, such as power plants," the British Defense Ministry said Thursday. "However, it is probably also attempting to break through at Vuhlehirska, as part of its efforts to regain momentum on the southern pincer of its advance towards the key cities of Kramatorsk and Sloviansk.”
Fighting also persists in the Luhansk region, next to Donetsk, but it has not been fully captured by the Russian military, governor Serhiy Haidai said.
In other developments on Thursday:
— The operator of a major pipeline from Russia to Europe says natural gas has started flowing again after a 10-day shutdown for maintenance. But the gas flow was expected to fall well short of full capacity and the outlook was uncertain. The Nord Stream 1 pipeline to Germany had been closed since July 11 for annual maintenance work. The pipeline is Germany’s main source of Russian gas. German officials had feared that the pipeline might not reopen at all amid growing tensions over Russia’s war in Ukraine. Operator Nord Stream AG said that gas was flowing again Thursday morning and its network data showed gas beginning to arrive.
— Swiss technology, industrial products and robotics company ABB said it is exiting the Russian market over the war in Ukraine and related sanctions. The company previously suspended accepting new orders from Russia after the invasion of Ukraine. The Zurich-based company, which has two production sites and about 750 people in Russia, posted a second quarter hit of $57 million in financial impact due to the situation. The company says Russia accounted for 1%-2% of its annual revenues – which totaled nearly $29 billion last year – before it stopped taking new orders from Russia.
Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
Mstyslav Chernov, The Associated Press