Residential building heavily damaged by a Russian missile strike in Zaporizhzhia

More Russian missiles slam Ukrainian apartments, killing 13 in Zaporizhzhia

ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine (AP) — The couple cowered under a blanket before dawn Sunday when they heard missiles headed again for their city, which has suffered repeated barrages as Russian and Ukrainian forces battle for control of territory that Moscow has illegally annexed.

“There was one explosion, then another one,” Mucola Markovich said. Then, in a flash, the fourth-floor apartment he shared with his wife was gone, the 76-year-old said, holding back tears.

The overnight Russian missile strikes on the city of Zaporizhzhia brought down part of a large apartment building, leaving at least a dozen people dead.

“When it will be rebuilt, I don’t know,” Markovich said. “I am left without an apartment at the end of my life.”

The strikes come as Russia has suffered a series of setbacks nearly eight months after invading Ukraine in a campaign many thought would be short-lived. In recent weeks, Ukrainian forces have staged a counteroffensive, retaking areas in the south and east, while Moscow’s decision to call up more troops has led to protests and an exodus of tens of thousands of Russians.

The latest setback for Moscow was an explosion Saturday that hit a huge bridge linking Russia with the Crimean Peninsula, which Moscow annexed eight years ago. The attack on the Kerch Bridge damaged an important supply route for the Kremlin’s forces, and was a blow to Russian prestige.

READ MORE: Putin accuses Kyiv of ‘terrorist act’ in response to Crimea bridge blast

Hours after the explosion, Russia’s Defense Ministry announced that the air force chief, Gen. Sergei Surovikin, would now command all Russian troops in Ukraine.

Recent fighting has focused on the regions just north of Crimea, including Zaporizhzhia. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy lamented the latest attack in a Telegram post.

“Again, Zaporizhzhia. Again, merciless attacks on civilians, targeting residential buildings, in the middle of the night,” he wrote. At least 19 people died in Russian missile strikes on apartment buildings in the city on Thursday.

READ MORE: Russia hits Ukraine apartments with missiles, detains refugees at border

“From the one who gave this order, to everyone who carried out this order: They will answer,” he added.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called the attacks on civilians a war crime and urged an international investigation.

The six missiles used in Sunday’s overnight attack were launched from Russian-occupied areas of the Zaporizhzhia region, the Ukrainian air force said. The region is one of four Russia claimed as its own this month, though its capital of the same name remains under Ukrainian control.

Stunned residents watched from behind police tape as emergency crews tried to reach the upper floors of a building that took a direct hit. A chasm at least 12 meters (40-feet) wide smoldered where apartments had once stood.

In an adjacent apartment building, the missile barrage blew windows and doors out of their frames in a radius of hundreds of feet. At least 20 private homes and 50 apartment buildings were damaged, city council Secretary Anatoliy Kurtev said.

In the immediate aftermath, the city council said 17 people were killed, but later revised that down to 12. Regional police reported on Sunday afternoon that 13 had been killed and more than 60 wounded, at least 10 of them children.

Tetyana Lazunko, 73, and her husband, Oleksii, took shelter in the hallway of their top-floor apartment after hearing air raid sirens. The explosion shook the building and sent their possessions flying. Lazunko wept as the couple surveyed the damage to their home of nearly five decades.

“Why are they bombing us? Why?” she said.

About 3 kilometers (2 miles) away in another neighborhood ravaged by a missile, three volunteers dug a shallow grave for a German shepherd dog killed in the strike, its leg blown away by the blast.

Russian officials did not immediately comment on the strikes.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian military said Sunday that fierce clashes were taking place around the cities of Bakhmut and Avdiivka in the eastern Donetsk region, where Russian forces have claimed some recent territorial gains. The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine did not acknowledge any loss of territory but said “the most tense situation” had been observed around those two cities.

And in the devastated Ukrainian city of Lyman, which was recently recaptured after a months-long Russian occupation, authorities were searching for the bodies of more civilians. Mark Tkachenko of the Kramatorsk district police said Lyman has become a “humanitarian crisis” that could still hold further grim discoveries like mass graves.

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Schreck reported from Kyiv.