VINNYTSIA, Ukraine (Reuters) – Russian missiles hit a Ukrainian town far behind the front lines in an attack Kyiv officials say was a war crime that killed at least 23 people as it there were more signs of progress in efforts to unblock Ukrainian grain exports.
Thursday’s strike on Vinnytsia, which Ukraine says was carried out with Kalibr cruise missiles launched from a Russian submarine in the Black Sea, followed a breakthrough in talks between Moscow and Kyiv on resuming Ukrainian grain shipments and underlined how strongly the two sides remain of a peace agreement.
The United States took steps Thursday to facilitate Russian food and fertilizer exports by reassuring banks, shipping and insurance companies that such transactions would not violate Washington’s sanctions against Moscow.
Allowing these Russian exports is a key part of attempts by the United Nations and Turkish officials to broker a comprehensive deal with Moscow that would also allow Ukrainian grain shipments from the war-blocked Black Sea port of Odessa. .
Political cartoons about world leaders
The war in Ukraine has sent prices for grains, cooking oils, fuel and fertilizers skyrocketing, fueling a global food crisis. Negotiators hope an agreement will be signed next week.
But the prospects for peace remained bleak. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has called Russia a “terrorist” state, called for more sanctions against the Kremlin and said the death toll in Vinnytsia could rise by 23.
“Unfortunately, this is not the final number. The clearing of debris continues. Dozens of people are missing. There are serious injuries (people) among those hospitalized,” he said in a video speech.
Russia reiterated that it was not targeting civilians and said its attack hit a military training center.
“The Russian Federation strikes only military objects in Ukraine, and the strike in Vinnytsia targeted the officers’ house where the Ukrainian armed forces were trained,” Russian diplomat Evgeny Varganov told the United Nations on Thursday.
Reuters could not independently verify the Battlefield accounts.
Ukraine’s state emergency service said three children, including a 4-year-old girl named Lisa, were among the victims and 71 people were hospitalized and 29 others missing.
He posted a photo on his Telegram channel of a toy kitten, a toy dog and flowers lying in the grass. “Little girl Lisa, killed by the Russians today, has become a ray of sunshine,” he said.
Zelenskiy told an international conference aimed at prosecuting war crimes in Ukraine that the attack was mounted on “an ordinary, peaceful town”.
Russia, which launched what it called its “special military operation” against Ukraine on February 24, says it is using high-precision weapons to degrade Ukraine’s military infrastructure to protect its own security.
Vinnytsia, a city of 370,000 about 200 km (125 miles) southwest of Ukraine’s capital Kyiv, is home to the command headquarters of the Ukrainian Air Force, according to an official army website. Ukraine, a target that Russia used cruise missiles to try to hit in March, the Ukrainian Air Force said at the time.
Video footage showed thick black smoke billowing from a tall building, while photographs released online by the state emergency service showed gray smoke later rising from the twisted remains of burnt-out cars and smoking rubble.
One showed an abandoned, overturned pram lying in the street.
“No other state in the world poses such a terrorist threat as Russia,” Zelenskiy said.
FIGHT ON THE EASTERN FRONT
The United States and more than 40 other countries agreed on Thursday to coordinate investigations into alleged war crimes in Ukraine.
Russia denies war crimes charges and Dmitry Medvedev, former president turned deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, has said attempts by the West to punish a nuclear power like Russia for the conflict in Ukraine risk putting humanity in danger.
The Kremlin has said Russia is ready to end what the West calls Moscow’s unprovoked war of aggression if Kyiv agrees to its terms.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrey Rudenko said on Thursday that Moscow would react positively if Kyiv was ready to resume peace talks, the Interfax news agency reported. Kyiv should affirm its non-aligned, non-nuclear status and formally recognize existing territorial realities, Rudenko said.
Specifically, he said it would be tantamount to acknowledging that Crimea, annexed by Moscow in 2014, was under Russian control and that two small self-declared Russian-backed states in eastern Ukraine were no longer under Russian control. from Kyiv.
Ukraine has repeatedly said it does not want to concede any territory to a country it calls a hostile occupier and has said it plans to take back any land lost by force.
Daniil Bezsonov, a Russian-backed official in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, said the small state’s armed forces and Russia were concentrating their fire in eastern Ukraine on the towns of Siversk and Soledar.
The Russian plan, he said, was to capture both cities and then move forward to attack the cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk from the east.
The Ukrainian army, which reported Russian shelling of Siversk, Soledar and Kramatorsk, said it was holding the line on all fronts and repelling all attempted assaults.
(Reporting by Reuters offices; Writing by Cynthia Osterman; Editing by Aurora Ellis)
Copyright 2022 Thomson Reuters.