Ukraine Russia war: Donbas apartment block collapse death toll rises to 41

Ukraine is bracing for what it expects will be a massive new Russian offensive in the Donbas region * over 5,000 Ukrainian killed since start of the invasion.

A man cleans an area of a residential building damaged by a Russian military strike, as Russia's invasion of Ukraine continues, in Kharkiv, Ukraine July 11, 2022. (photo credit: REUTERS/NACHO DOCE)
A man cleans an area of a residential building damaged by a Russian military strike, as Russia's invasion of Ukraine continues, in Kharkiv, Ukraine July 11, 2022.
(photo credit: REUTERS/NACHO DOCE)

The death toll under a collapsed apartment block in the Donetsk region town of Chasiv Yar climbed to 41 on Tuesday evening, with rescue work still not over four days after the building was hit by Russian rocket fire, emergency services said.

Over 420 tonnes of rubble had been cleared and 9 people rescued from under the ruins, the regional emergency services directorate wrote on Facebook on Tuesday.

Andriy Yermak, chief of staff to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said on Sunday the strike was "another terrorist attack," and that Russia should be designated as a state sponsor of terrorism as a result.

Russia, which denies deliberately targeting civilians, said on Monday it had "destroyed the temporary deployment point" of a Ukrainian territorial defense unit in Chasiv Yar.

Russian-controlled area hit by Ukrainian rockets

Ukraine said on Tuesday it had carried out a long-range rocket strike against Russian forces and military equipment in southern Ukraine, territory it says it is planning to retake in a counter-offensive using hundreds of thousands of troops.

According to Ukraine, the strike hit an ammunition dump in the town of Nova Kakhovka in the Kherson region and killed 52 Russians. It came after Washington supplied Ukraine with HIMARS mobile artillery systems which Kyiv says its forces are using with ever greater efficacy.

 A firefighter works at a site of a residential building damaged by a Russian military strike, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in Mykolaiv, Ukraine July 12, 2022. (credit: Press service of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine/Handout via REUTERS) A firefighter works at a site of a residential building damaged by a Russian military strike, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in Mykolaiv, Ukraine July 12, 2022. (credit: Press service of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine/Handout via REUTERS)

A Russian-installed official in Kherson gave a different version. He said at least seven people had been killed and that civilians and civilian infrastructure had been hit.

Reuters could not independently verify the battlefield accounts.

The area Ukraine struck is one that Russia seized and is of strategic importance with Black Sea access, a once-thriving agricultural industry, and a location just north of Russian-annexed Crimea.

Ukrainian government officials have spoken of efforts to marshal up to 1 million troops and of their aim to recapture southern parts of the country under Russian control.

"Based on the results of our rocket and artillery units, the enemy lost 5️2 (people), an Msta-B howitzer, a mortar, and seven armored and other vehicles, as well as an ammunition depot in Nova Kakhovka," Ukraine's southern military command said in statement.

Unverified videos posted on social media showed smoke and sparks, followed by an immense fireball erupting into the night sky. Images released by Russian state media showed a wasteland covered in rubble and the remains of buildings.

An official from the Russian-installed local administration said that Ukraine had used HIMARS missiles and that they had destroyed warehouses containing saltpeter, a chemical compound which can be used to make fertilizer or gunpowder, resulting in a large explosion.

The Ukrainian Defence Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the kind of weapon used.

Vladimir Leontyev, head of the Russia-installed Kakhovka District military-civilian administration, was cited by Russia's TASS news agency as saying that at least seven people had been killed in the attack and around 60 wounded.

"There are still many people under the rubble. The injured are being taken to the hospital, but many people are blocked in their apartments and houses," Leontyev was quoted by TASS as saying.

He was also cited as saying that warehouses, shops, a pharmacy, gas stations and a church had been hit.

Counter attack plans

Russia has accused Ukraine of shelling its own people in the territory that it has lost control of. Ukraine says it evacuates as many people as possible from areas seized by Russian forces in what it and the West have cast as an attempted imperial-style land grab by Moscow.

Kyiv and the West say Russia's own strikes have been indiscriminate, killing civilians and leveling city districts.

Moscow denies targeting civilians but many Ukrainian settlements have been left in ruins as Europe's biggest conflict since World War Two grinds towards the five-month mark.

The UN human rights office said on Tuesday that 5,024 civilians had been killed in Ukraine since the invasion began, adding that the real toll was likely much higher. 

Russia has tried to introduce the rouble in Kherson and is offering Russian passports to locals. Russian-installed officials say they also plan to hold a referendum on the region becoming part of Russia but have not yet set a date.

Ukraine's deputy prime minister on Sunday urged civilians in Kherson to urgently evacuate as Ukraine's armed forces were preparing a counter-attack there.

"It's clear there will be fighting, there will be artillery shelling... and we, therefore, urge (people) to evacuate urgently," Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said on national television.

She said she could not say when exactly the counter-offensive would happen.

"I know for sure that there should not be women and children there, and that they should not become human shields," she said.

Ukraine is bracing for what it expects will be a massive new Russian offensive in the east of the country where Moscow says it is determined to take control of all of the industrial Donbas region.

Ukraine under constant attack

Russian forces have for weeks been shelling parts of the Donetsk region, which is part of Donbas.

Pavlo Kyrylenko, the governor of the Donetsk region, told a briefing there was a significant buildup of Russian troops, particularly in the Bakhmut and Siversky areas, and around Sloviansk and Kramatorsk.

The whole front line in the region was under constant shelling as Russian troops tried to break through but were being repelled, he said.

TASS reported separately that Russian and Russian-backed forces were encircling the town of Sieversk.

Other locations in Ukraine were also under attack.

At least 12 people were wounded in shelling of the southern city of Mykolaiv overnight, the regional governor said, and the mayor of Kharkiv, Ukraine's second city, told Ukrainian TV it was under pressure too.

"Russia does not leave Kharkiv alone for a second and shells the city constantly," said Oleh Terekhov, the mayor.

"We don't stop for a minute preparing the defense of the city and the region."