At least 29 people have been confirmed dead after a Russian strike hit an apartment block in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine over the weekend, Ukrainian officials said Monday.
The residential building in the town of Chasiv Yar was hit on Saturday evening as Russia once again ramped up its assault on cities and towns in eastern Ukraine in an attempt to take control over the entire Donbas area.
Twenty-four bodies have been pulled from the wreckage and a further five were visible but not retrievable, Ukraine’s State Emergency Service said Monday. Emergency workers had rescued six people and established contact with two others who were still buried under the wreckage, the emergency service said.
“As of now around 72% of the rubble has been cleared,” Pavlo Kyrylenko, the head of Donetsk regional military administration, told Ukrainian media Monday.
Over the weekend, Kyrylenko said the area was struck by two or three Russian rockets and that the incident was “yet another confirmation of the crimes of the Russian Federation, confirmation that they are shelling residential areas.”
Chasiv Yar and other towns in Donetsk have been under heavy fire in recent days as Russian forces try to grind down Ukrainian resistance in the area and move further west towards Kramatorsk and Sloviansk.
The Russian Defense Ministry claimed on Saturday that its troops destroyed a hangar with US-supplied M777 howitzers, long-range weapons, and dozens of Ukrainian “militants” near Chasiv Yar.
CNN cannot independently verify the Russian claims. Ukrainian officials said the strike hit a railway station in Chasiv Yar and that several people were injured in the attack.
Meanwhile, both sides in the conflict have reported fighting north of Sloviansk in the Donetsk region.
Ukraine’s General Staff said there had been heavy Russian fire against several settlements, including an air strike near the village of Bohorodychne, which lies on the southern side of the Siverskiy Donets river, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of Sloviansk.
Russian state news agency TASS quoted a source close to the Luhansk People’s Militia as saying the key village of Bohorodychne had been taken, and said that “the organization of a powerful bridgehead for the offensive on Slavyansk [Sloviansk in Ukrainian] continues.”
The Ukrainian military said that its soldiers “successfully repelled the enemy assault in the direction of Krasnopillia,” which is five kilometers from Bohorodychne.
It also said there were “signs of enemy units preparing to intensify combat operations in the Kramatorsk and Bakhmut directions,” two other important urban areas. “Assault and army aviation became more active.”
Donetsk and Luhansk are the two regions that together form Donbas, the eastern part of Ukraine where the conflict between Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists started in 2014. The area has become the key centerpiece of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military ambition in Ukraine after his troops failed to take over Kyiv earlier this year.
Russian troops have already taken over almost all of the Luhansk region, the head of Luhansk’s region military administration Serhiy Hayday said in a telegram post on Saturday, adding that some 300,000 people from the area have been forced to flee their homes.
Lysychansk, the last city that was still under Ukrainian control in Luhansk, fell to Russia last week.
Russian troops have since focused on the Donetsk region, shelling wide areas along the front line and pushing from the Luhansk region into the Donetsk region, according to Hayday.
The regional military administration in Donetsk said Monday that “the shelling does not stop,” naming seven towns that had been hit. It said that dozens of buildings had been damaged.
Ukrainian forces have been defending this area against Russian attacks for more than a month.
To the west of Donetsk city, the Ukrainians said “another offensive attempt by the occupiers in the direction of Mariinka has completely failed.”
Away from Donetsk, Russian attacks on the northeastern city of Kharkiv and its surrounding area has intensified, with shelling and tank fire hitting half-a-dozen settlements around the city on Monday, said Ukrainian military.
At least six people were killed and 31 injured in Russian bombardment of three Kharkiv districts, according to Ukrainian officials.
Serhii Bolvinov, head of the investigation department of Kharkiv’s National Police, said a shopping center was damaged, as well as houses and vehicles.
Among the dead was a father and his 17-year-old son. They were on their way to pick up a certificate for the teenager’s university entrance before the car took a direct hit, he said.
‘Million strong’ force
Ukraine’s Armed Forces are massing a “million strong” fighting force to retake lands in southern Ukraine that have been under Russian occupation, Oleksii Reznikov, Ukraine’s defense minister, told the British newspaper The Times.
Reznikov said that the offensive would be bolstered by the use of Western weapons.
The minister added that President Volodymr Zelensky gave the orders to retake the coastal areas in the south which are crucial to Ukraine’s economy.
Reznikov said that Ukraine had a force of 1 million made up of 700,000 servicemen, and the other 300,000 coming from the national guard, police and border force.
The southern Mykolaiv and Kherson regions have also become hotspots in the conflict, with Ukrainian forces stepping up their firing against Russian storage and supply lines in occupied territory in the south and Russia using artillery fire to try to prevent Ukrainian advances.
Ukraine’s campaign in Kherson continued over the weekend, with several videos showing Ukrainian units among the wreckage of Russian armor.
One Ukrainian unit, the 60th Infantry Brigade, published video on Monday from the northern Kherson settlement of Ivanivka, with one of the soldiers saying: “We received an order to take this position, so we did and still holding it.”
At least two Russian garrisons and ammunition depots were hit by Ukrainian forces well behind the front lines in Kherson.
“The destruction of enemy command posts of various levels and ammunition depots is taking place,” the military’s General Staff said Monday.
The military’s Operational Command in the south gave further details about one of the strikes, saying that a pair of attack aircraft had hit a command post in Kherson city. It claimed 38 Russian personnel had been killed and 10 units of equipment, including howitzers and a portable anti-aircraft missile complex, had been destroyed, as well as two ammunition warehouses.
Geolocated videos from Kherson at the weekend showed two substantial fires in and close to the city.
CNN’s Tara John, Manveena Suri, Seb Shukla, and Josh Pennington contributed reporting.