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Russian strikes kill two in Ukraine, damage dozens of buildings

By Ivan Lubysh-Kirdey

PAVLOHRAD, Ukraine (Reuters) -Russia unleashed a fresh volley of missiles on Ukraine overnight in a city in the east, killing two people, setting off huge blazes and damaging dozens of homes and other buildings.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy announced the two deaths in his nightly video address, vowing: "The Russian occupiers will receive our answer for every such strike.

"The terrorists' missiles took the lives of two people, very young men," Zelenskiy said. "Forty other people - women, children, men, were treated for wounds and injuries."

Zelenskiy also said a 14-year-boy was killed near his school when it was hit by a bomb in the Chernihiv region, close to the Russian border.

The attack on Pavlohrad, a city and railway hub, came during the second wave of nationwide missile strikes in three days, with Moscow apparently reviving its winter tactic of long-range strikes ahead of a planned Ukrainian counteroffensive.

A huge crater had been blasted in the backyard of a house that was strewn with debris on the outskirts of Pavlohrad in southeastern Ukraine, around 100 kilometres (62 miles) from the front line. Homes nearby were badly damaged. In the city centre, the windows of a dormitory that serves a chemical plant had been blown out.

"I ran outside and saw the garage was destroyed. Everything was on fire, glass shards were everywhere. Had we been outside, we would have been killed," said resident Olha Lytvynenko, 61.

Viktoriia Suprun, 41, said she had taken cover with her daughter in the hallway of the dormitory.

"We rushed to the hallway, laid on the floor. And then the explosion wave twisted the door. Had we stayed for five more seconds, we would have been trapped here," she said.

Mykola Lukashuk, head of the Dnipropetrovsk region council, said the attack had damaged 19 apartment blocks, 25 houses, three schools, three kindergartens and several shops. The wounded included five children, the region's governor said.

RUSSIA SAYS IT TARGETS THE MILITARY

Russia's defence ministry said its forces had struck using high-precision long-range air and sea-based missiles against "Ukraine's military-industrial facilities".

"The objectives of the strike were achieved," it said in a statement. "The work of enterprises making ammunition, weapons and military equipment for Ukrainian troops has been disrupted."

Russian news reports said two civilians were killed by Ukrainian shelling in a Russian-held area of the south-central Zaporizhzhia region. Ukrainian forces, the reports said, also shelled Russian-held areas of the Donetsk region in the east.

Reuters was unable to verify reports of military activity.

With Ukraine readying a counteroffensive to take back territory seized since the invasion was launched 14 months ago, the commander-in-chief of Ukrainian forces, General Valery Zaluzhniy, spoke on Monday to the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"I emphasised the need to augment air defence system capabilities," Zaluzhniy said in a statement of his conversation with General Mark Milley.

"Separately, I touched upon manning our units and the importance of timely supply of weapons, military equipment and ammunition to Ukraine in sufficient quantities."

On the ground, the war is at a potential turning point after five months of Russian assaults that have secured little new territory despite bloody ground combat.

Kyiv is preparing to unleash a counterattack using hundreds of armoured vehicles and tanks donated by allies, and thousands of troops recently returned from training in the West.

The Ukrainian General Staff said fighting continued to grip the city of Bakhmut, focal point of Russian attacks in the east.

A top Ukrainian general said counterattacks by Kyiv's forces had ousted Russian forces from some positions in the city, but that the situation remained difficult.

Damage appeared to be limited elsewhere in Ukraine, after air raid sirens sounded for hours through the night. Ukraine said it shot down 15 of 18 incoming cruise missiles.

On Friday, 23 civilians were killed when a high-rise apartment building in the city of Uman was hit by a missile, part of Russia's first big countrywide volley of air strikes in nearly two months.

Russia had launched waves of missile attacks on Ukraine from October until early March, often targeting energy infrastructure in what Kyiv called a deliberate strategy to harm and intimidate civilians, a war crime.

(Additional reporting by Lidia Kelly and Dan Peleschuk; Writing by Tom Balmforth, Peter Graff and Ron Popeski; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne, Conor Humphries and Rosalba O'Brien)