KYIV, July 16 (Reuters) – Russia has ordered its forces in Ukraine to step up operations, its defence ministry said on Saturday, as rockets and missiles pounded the country in the latest of a series of bombardments that Kyiv says have killed dozens of people in recent days.
In the latest strikes, missiles hit the northeastern town of Chuhuiv in Kharkiv region, killing three people including a 70-year-old woman and wounding three, regional governor Oleh Synehubov said.
To the south, regional governor Valentyn Reznichenko said more than 50 Russian Grad rockets fell on the city of Nikopol, on the Dnipro River. Two people were killed, emergency services said.
Ukraine says around 40 people have been killed in such attacks on urban areas in the last three days.
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu has ordered military units to step up their operations to prevent strikes on eastern Ukraine and other territories controlled by Russia, the ministry said in a statement on its website.
It said Shoigu “gave the necessary instructions to further increase the actions of groups in all operational areas in order to exclude the possibility of the Kyiv regime launching massive rocket and artillery strikes on civilian infrastructure and residents of settlements in Donbas and other regions”.
The ministry said Shoigu had issued his order after listening to reports from generals at a command centre.
At the same meeting, Shoigu presented two Russian commanders in Ukraine with “Golden Star” Hero of the Russian Federation medals for heroism.
It was not clear from the statement, or the silent footage provided, exactly when the meeting took place or whether Shoigu and the commanders were in Ukraine at the time.
Ukrainian rocket strikes using Western-supplied systems have destroyed more than 30 Russian military logistics centres in recent weeks and significantly reduced Russia’s attacking potential, Ukraine said on Friday.
WAR OF ATTRITION
While the focus of the war, now in its fifth month, has moved to Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, Russian forces have been striking cities elsewhere in the country with missiles and rockets in what has become an increasingly attritional conflict.
Moscow, which launched what it called its “special military operation” against Ukraine on Feb. 24, says it uses high-precision weapons to degrade Ukraine’s military infrastructure and protect its own security. It has repeatedly denied targeting civilians.
Kyiv and the West have cast the conflict as an unprovoked attempt to reconquer a country that broke free of Moscow’s rule with the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991.
In one recent attack that stoked outrage from Ukraine and its Western allies, Kalibr cruise missiles hit an office building in Vinnytsia, a city of 370,000 people about 200 km (125 miles) southwest of Kyiv, on Thursday.
Kyiv said the strike killed at least 23 people and wounded dozens. Among the dead was a 4-year-old girl named Liza with Down’s Syndrome, found in the debris next to a pram. Images of her playing hours before the attack quickly went viral.
Russia’s defence ministry has said the strike on Vinnytsia was directed at a building where top officials from Ukraine’s armed forces were meeting foreign arms suppliers.
Late on Friday, Russian missiles hit the city of Dnipro, about 120 km (75 miles) north of Nikopol, killing three people and wounding 15, Reznychenko, governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region that includes both cities, said on Telegram, adding that an industrial plant and a busy street next to it were hit.
“When the blast wave hit, there were few shards because all my windows were taped up,” a local woman who gave her name as Klavdia told Reuters.
“I have a small injury on the left of my body but the people whose windows were not protected like this, there was a lot of blood, their injuries were horrible. I saw a small child all covered in blood. It was awful.”
Russia said it had destroyed a factory in Dnipro making missile parts.
CONFLICT DIVIDES G20
The war dominated a meeting of G20 finance ministers in Indonesia. U.S Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said differences over the conflict had prevented the finance chiefs and central bankers from issuing a formal communique but that they agreed on a need to address a worsening food security crisis.
“This is a challenging time because Russia is part of the G20 and doesn’t agree with the rest of us on how to characterize the war,” Yellen said.
Western countries have imposed tough sanctions on Russia and have accused it of war crimes in Ukraine, which Moscow denies. Other G20 nations, including China, India and South Africa, have been more muted in their response.
In one spillover from the conflict, a blockade restricting exports of Ukrainian grain has prompted warnings it could put millions in poorer countries at risk of starvation.
Despite the bloodshed, both Russia and Ukraine described progress towards an agreement to lift a blockade in recent talks. Mediator Turkey has said a deal could be signed next week.