July 11 (UPI) — Russian rockets destroyed a high-rise residential building in the city of Chasiv Yar in eastern Ukraine on Sunday, killing at least 15 people, Ukrainian officials said.
Ukraine’s State Emergency Service said in a statement that the bodies of 15 people were found after a residential bloc was destroyed by rocket fire and that five people were rescued from the rubble.
Rescuers have made verbal contact with three more people trapped under debris and are making efforts to try to reach them, the State Emergency Service said.
Pavlo Kyrylenko, the head of Donetsk regional military administration, said in a statement that 24 more people, including a 9-year-old child, may still be under the rubble.
Chasiv Yar is one of the cities in the Donetsk province that has been under heavy assault in recent weeks as Russia steps up its war efforts. The Donetsk province together with the Luhansk province make up the larger Donbas region, which has been largely held by pro-Russian separatists since Crimea was annexed by Russia in 2014.
Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized Luhansk and Donetsk as independent republics before the start of the invasion on Feb. 24.
Experts have said that Putin will try to annex the Donbas region into Russia in coming months. Last week, Russia seized control of Lysychansk — the last strategic city in the Luhansk province to fall to Russian control.
The British Defense Ministry, which has been providing intelligence updates throughout the course of the war in Ukraine, said Sunday that Russian artillery continues to strike the Sloviansk area of Donbas from around Izium to the north and near Lysychansk to the east.
“Russian forces have likely made some further small territorial advances around Popasna,” the intelligence update reads.
“Fires from Izium continue to focus along the axis of the E40 main road. Control of the E40, which links Donetsk to Kharkiv, is likely to be an important objective for Russia as it attempts to advance through Donetsk Oblast.”
The Institute for the Study of War, a think tank based in Washington, D.C, said in an analysis of war gains on Saturday that the Russian occupation government in Kharkiv has said the area is an “inalienable part of Russian land.”
The Russian regime in Kharkiv has also revealed a new flag bearing the Russian imperial double-headed eagle, a sign that the Kremlin likely intends to annex part or all of the province with the Donbas region.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Saturday thanked the United States in his nightly address for providing the country with additional HIMARS launcher united and other weapons that will allow Ukraine to “take precisely anti-terrorist steps and reduce Russian attack capabilities.”
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said in a statement Saturday that such HIMARS launchers “have already made a HUUUGE difference on the battlefield.”
Iryna Vereshchuk, a deputy prime minister of Ukraine, and other officials have also recently hinted that Ukraine may soon launch counteroffensive efforts on Russian forces, The New York Times reported, citing local news outlets.
“You need to find a way to leave, because our armed forces are coming to de-occupy,” Vereshchuk told residents of the Kherson region on Friday on Ukrainian television. “There will be a massive fight. I do not want to scare you, but I want you to understand.”
Igor Konashenkov, a spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry, told Russian state media Sunday that Russian air defenses have intercepted three Ukrainian military drones and three Tochka-U missiles in the past day. His comments could not be independently verified by United Press International.
Konashenkov also alleged that Russian forces conducted a strike on a ceramics plant in Sloviansk in the Donetsk province, killing up to 100 Ukrainian troops and destroying ammunition for U.S. howitzers.