A Russian missile struck the southern Ukrainian port city of Odesa early Wednesday, killing at least three people and injuring 13 others.
Ukraine’s military said the attack involved four Kalibr cruise missiles.
Regional authorities said a missile struck a warehouse where the three people were killed and that the Russian attack also damaged homes and shops in downtown Odesa.
Officials said rescuers were searching to find anyone who may have been buried in the rubble.
The U.N.’s humanitarian agency condemned the attack.
“People in Odesa woke up, once again, to see their loved ones killed or injured by an airstrike. This is not an isolated case,” U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for Ukraine Denise Brown said in a statement. “Since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, indiscriminate attacks and the use of explosive weapons with wide impact in populated areas have left thousands of civilians, including children, killed and injured. This must stop.”
In Donetsk province, in eastern Ukraine, officials said missile strikes killed at least three people in the cities of Kramatorsk and Konstantinovka.
The Ukrainian prosecutor’s office said shelling Wednesday in the Sumy region in northeastern Ukraine hit a car near the Russian border, killing six people.
Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar told VOA’s Myroslava Gongadze that Ukraine is conducting offensive operations in the east and south of Ukraine, even as the Russian army is conducting offensive operations. So, Ukrainian forces are currently engaged in offensive and defensive operations.
“There is some progress in the Bakhmut direction,” she said, “but the enemy increased artillery and mortar shelling, using aviation, making it challenging to advance. There are some difficult weather conditions as well.”
“However, Ukrainian forces are moving forward step by step,” Maliar said. “In the last week, Ukrainian forces advanced by 6.5 kilometers in all directions and liberated around 90 square kilometers.”
NATO support for Ukraine
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday that the Western military alliance’s support for Ukraine in its fight against Russia “is now making a difference on the battlefield” with the start of Ukraine’s counteroffensive.
“The offensive is launched, and the Ukrainians are making progress, making advances,” Stoltenberg said as he met with U.S. President Joe Biden at the White House.
“It’s still early days, but what we do know is that the more land the Ukrainians are able to liberate, the stronger hand they will have at the negotiating table,” Stoltenberg said, “and also the more likely it will be that [Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin at some stage will understand that he will never win this war of aggression on the battlefield.”
Biden agreed that NATO’s continuing support for Ukraine is making a difference, saying, “NATO allies have never been more united, and we both worked like hell to make sure that happened, and so far, so good. Putin is making a mistake.”
Stoltenberg offered his assessment of the now nearly 16-month Russian assault on Ukraine.
“I think you also have to realize that Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine is not only an attack on Ukraine, but also on our core values, and on free people everywhere,” he said. “And therefore, President Putin must not win this war, because that will not only be a tragedy for Ukrainians, but also make the world more dangerous.”
“It will send a message to authoritarian leaders all over the world, also in China, that when they use military force, they get what they want,” the NATO chief said. “And we will then become more vulnerable. So, it’s [in] our security interest to support Ukraine.”
Black Sea grain deal
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that Russia is thinking about withdrawing from the Black Sea grain deal under which tons of Ukrainian grain have been shipped to other European countries and impoverished nations in Africa.
Putin said that Moscow had been “cheated” over implementation of the parts of the deal that concerned its own exports.
Putin told pro-Kremlin war correspondents that the accord was intended to help “friendly” countries in Africa and Latin America. But he said Europe has turned out to be the largest importer of Ukrainian grain and that this was providing a key source of foreign currency to Kyiv.
Putin said he plans to discuss the future of the grain deal with some African leaders who were expected to visit Russia. Putin said Moscow is ready to supply grain for free to the world’s poorest countries.
The deal was brokered last July by the United Nations and Turkey and extended since then, allowing for the safe export of grain from several Ukrainian ports past Russian warships on the Black Sea.
Meanwhile, Putin suggested that he could order his troops to try to seize more land in Ukraine to protect Russian territory on the border with Ukraine, where villages have come under attack.
Putin said Ukrainian forces had suffered “catastrophic” losses in their new counteroffensive. He said that Ukraine lost 160 tanks and more than 360 other armored vehicles, while Russia lost only 54 tanks since Kyiv began the new assault in recent days. His claims could not be immediately verified.
Putin said he wasn’t contemplating a new mobilization of troops but didn’t rule it out.