Russian forces shelled a civilian evacuation convoy in northeastern Ukraine on Saturday, killing 24 people, Ukrainian officials said.
The bombing has intensified after Moscow illegally annexed part of Ukraine’s territory in a sharp escalation of the war.
“A car convoy with civilians under fire was found in the Kupyansk district. According to preliminary data, 20 people died in the cars,” Kharkiv Governor Oleg Synegubov said on the Telegram messenger site.
Synegubov put the preliminary death toll at 24, including a pregnant woman and 13 children.
“The Russians fired on the civilians at close range. [They] attacked civilians trying to escape the shelling. This is cruelty that has no justification,” Synegubov said.
In an online video shared by official channels, a senior medic from the Kupyansk Emergency Medical Care Department confirmed these numbers.
Russia did not immediately acknowledge or comment on the missile attack, the second in two days to hit a humanitarian convoy.
The Kharkiv region prosecutor’s office said: “On September 30, prosecutors, investigators from the Security Service and the police discovered a convoy of seven cars that had been shot at.
“The line of cars was fired upon by the Russian army on September 25 as civilians tried to evacuate,” the statement said.
“Two cars with children and their parents inside have burned out completely – they burned alive,” it said.
Ukraine said at least 30 people, including children, were killed and dozens injured when a convoy of civilian vehicles was shelled in the Zaporizhia region on Friday.
Russian troops have withdrawn from much of the Kharkiv region after a successful Ukrainian counter-offensive last month but continued shelling the area.
Amid mounting international sanctions and condemnation of Russia, the counterattack that has embarrassed the Kremlin is gaining ground again.
Ukrainian forces entered the strategic eastern town of Lyman on Saturday as Russian troops retreated.
Russia announced it would withdraw soldiers from Lyman, 100 km (60 miles) southeast of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city.
“In connection with the creation of an encirclement threat, the Allied troops were withdrawn from the Krasny Lyman settlement to more favorable lines,” the Russian Defense Ministry said in its daily briefing.
Lyman, a major transport hub, had been a key site on the Russian front line for both ground communications and logistics. If it’s gone now, Ukraine may be able to advance further into the occupied Luhansk region, which is one of four territories Russia annexed on Friday following an internationally criticized referendum.
Ukraine also made “incremental” gains around Kupyansk and the eastern bank of the Oskil River, which have become a key front line since the Ukrainian counteroffensive regained control of the Kharkiv region in September.
According to Governor Vitaliy Kim, the Russian army twice attacked the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv overnight, once with drones and the second time with rockets. The first attack was carried out with Iranian Shahed-136 kamikaze drones and the second with S-300 missiles, he told Telegram.
In its heaviest barrage in weeks, the Russian military bombarded Ukrainian cities with rockets, rockets and kamikaze drones on Friday.
Russia is increasingly using anti-aircraft missiles to conduct ground attacks, likely due to a shortage of ammunition, the British military said.
“Russia is expending strategically valuable military assets to gain a tactical advantage, killing civilians whom it now claims are its own citizens,” it said.
Russia is now claiming sovereignty over 15 percent of Ukraine in what NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg described as “the largest attempted forcible annexation of European territory since World War II.”