Russia has accused the Ukrainian military of deliberately attacking a hospital in a Russian-controlled area in eastern Ukraine, which was a war crime, killing 14 and injuring 24 patients and medical staff.
There was no immediate reaction to the allegations from Ukraine on Saturday.
The attack hit a hospital in the Russian-held settlement of Novoaidar and was carried out using a US-supplied HIMARS missile launch system, Russia’s Defense Ministry said in a statement.
“A deliberate missile attack on a known functioning civilian medical facility is without a doubt a serious war crime by the Kiev regime,” it said. “All those involved in the planning and execution of this crime will be found and held accountable.”
Civilian and military medics have been working at the hospital for many months, treating local residents and soldiers, sources said.
Ukraine and its western allies have accused Russian forces of frequent war crimes in the conflict that has left thousands of civilians dead and cities reduced to rubble by artillery and air strikes. Russia denies attacks on civilians.
Meanwhile, three people were killed and more than a dozen others injured in a Russian attack on the town of Konstantynivka in eastern Ukraine, the local governor said on Saturday.
“The Russians fired on a residential area, damaging four multi-storey buildings, a hotel, garages and civilian cars,” Donetsk Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said on social media.
Kyrylenko said rescue workers and police officers are on site “to help people and to carefully document another crime committed by the Russian occupiers on our land.”
Images posted to Kyrylenko’s Telegram account showed apartment buildings with windows blown out and debris scattered around the charred remains of a car.
According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, Russia has carried out attacks on Konstantynivka with several rocket launchers.
Almost a year after invading Ukraine, Moscow is attempting to seize control of the entire Donetsk region, which it has already declared part of Russia.
“Deliberate Destroying Cities”
Ukraine said this week that Russian troops had stepped up attacks in the east, particularly on the towns of Vugledar and Bakhmut.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy described the fighting near Bakhmut and Vuhledar, 200 km (90 miles) south, as “extremely acute”.
“The occupiers are not only storming our positions, they are deliberately and systematically destroying these towns and villages around them,” he said.
Ukrainian troops are engaged in a “bitter battle” with Russian soldiers for control of Vuhledar, while the two sides fight along the southern front. In the small administration center made up of blocks of flats surrounded by flat fields, both sides claimed success.
“The encirclement and subsequent liberation of this city solves many problems,” said Denis Pushilin, the Moscow-appointed leader of the Donetsk region.
But Kyiv said the city, which had a population of about 15,000 before the invasion, remained contested. “There is fierce fighting there,” Ukrainian military spokesman Sergiy Cherevaty told local media.
“Resolute strategic action”
Bloomberg News reported that Russia is trying to demonstrate that its military can change the dynamics of the war after months of battlefield setbacks by launching an all-out offensive.
It quoted unnamed Russian officials and advisers as saying the aim was to win quick victories to gain control of the eastern regions annexed last year to bolster Moscow’s position in future peace talks.
The US-based think tank Institute for the Study of War (ISW) concurred with the reporting.
“This report is consistent with the ISW’s current assessment and forecast that the Kremlin is likely preparing to conduct a decisive strategic action – most likely in the Luhansk region – in the next six months, aimed at regaining the initiative and the current row operational successes of Ukraine.” it said.
“ISW has previously stated that the key strategic action in the Luhansk region could be either a major offensive or a Russian defensive operation to defeat and exploit a Ukrainian counter-offensive.”
A Ukrainian official said it is possible that Russia will launch its major offensive on the anniversary of the war last year.
“It’s no secret that they are preparing for a new wave until February 24,” Oleksiy Danilov, head of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, told Radio Liberty on Friday.
The goal is to capture the entire Donbass — Donetsk and Luhansk — and then “completely go beyond the borders of the regions,” Danilov said.