KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Emergency workers recovered three bodies from a school hit by a Russian strike in eastern Ukraine, officials said Friday, one of a string of attacks in several parts of the nation.
The reported casualties in the city of Kramatorsk followed a barrage Thursday on a densely populated area of Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, that killed at least three other people and wounded 23 more.
In a rare sign of light, Russian and Ukrainian officials on Friday signed agreements with the U.N. and Turkey that are meant to avert a global food crisis by clearing the way for the shipment of millions of tons of Ukrainian grain and for Russia to export grain and fertilizer.
Beyond that, there was no indication of relief from the grinding war that has gone on for almost five months. Russia this week reiterated its plans to seize territories beyond eastern Ukraine, where the Russian military has spent months trying to conquer the Donbas region.
The Ukrainian president’s office said that in Kramatorsk, located in the region’s Donetsk province, Russian shelling destroyed a school and damaged 85 residential buildings.
Ukraine’s state emergencies agency said a rescue operation found three bodies in the ruins of the school, which was hit Thursday.
“Russian strikes on schools and hospitals are very painful and reflect its true goal of reducing peaceful cities to ruins,” Donetsk Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said in televised remarks, repeating his call for residents to evacuate.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Lt. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, however, said Thursday’s strike killed over 300 Ukrainian troops who used Kramatorsk’s School No. 23 as their base. He said another strike destroyed a munitions depot in the industrial zone of the southern city of Mykolaiv.
Konashenkov also said that Russian forces destroyed four High Mobility Artillery Rocket System supplied by the United States during July 5-20. The U.S. said it has supplied 12 of the multiple-rocket launchers and will deliver four more for Ukrainian military use.
The claims could not be independently verified. A senior U.S. defense official, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity in line with department rules, said Thursday that Russia had not yet taken out a single HIMARS but was likely to “get lucky” and do so at some point.
The Ukrainian military has used HIMARS, which have a higher range and better precision compared with similar Soviet-era systems in the Russian and Ukrainian inventory, to strike Russian munitions depots and other key targets.
In the Dnipro region of central Ukraine, three schools were destroyed in the latest Russian strikes, Ukrainian authorities said. Seven Russian missiles hit the small town of Apostolove, wounding 18 residents.
The regional governor, Valentyn Reznichenko, decried the “senseless” attack.
“There are no military goals behind it, and this shelling could only be explained by their desire to keep people on edge and sow panic and fear,” Reznichenko said.
In other developments Friday:
— The British Defense Ministry said it believes that Russia is experiencing “critical shortages” of dedicated ground-attack missiles and therefore has increased its use of air-defense missiles “in secondary ground attack mode.” The ministry said its latest assessment indicated that Russia has “almost certainly” deployed S-300 and S-400 strategic air defense systems that are designed to shoot down aircraft and missiles at long range, and that there is a “high chance” of them missing their intended targets and causing civilian casualties.
— The senior U.S. defense official said the fight for Donetsk is “likely to last through the summer,” with Russia achieving slow gains at high cost. The official said that Russia is presently launching tens of thousands artillery rounds per day but has used a lot of “smarter munitions” and “can’t keep it up forever.”
— A city council member in Russia’s third-largest city was charged with disseminating false information about Russia’s armed forces and could face up to three years in prison, if convicted. The criminal case against Novosibirsk council member Helga Pirogova was opened Friday, according to Russian state news agency RIA-Novosti. Investigators found that she “published deliberately false information under the guise of a reliable message containing data on the use of the Russian Armed Forces,” the report said, without giving further details. The independent Latvia-based news outlet Meduza said the investigation began after a tweet by Pirogova criticizing “luxurious” funerals for Russians killed in Ukraine.
Nomaan Merchant in Washington contributed to this report.
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