‘Horrendous’ rocket attack kills civilians in Kharkiv as Moscow ‘adapts its tactics’

At least nine people have been killed and 37 injured after Russian forces launched multiple rocket strikes on the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv in what appeared to mark a change in tactics by Moscow towards bombing civilian areas.

The city’s mayor, Ihor Terekhov, said the toll included the deaths of three children.

“Today we had a very difficult day. It showed us that it’s not just a war, this is a massacre of Ukrainian people,” Terekhov said on his Telegram account. “The missiles hit residential buildings, killing and injuring peaceful civilians. Kharkiv has not seen such damage for a very long time. And this is horrible.”

He said four people were killed when they emerged from a shelter to find water and a family of two adults and three children were burned alive in their car.

Video showed dozens of Grad missiles raining down on the centre of Ukraine’s second-biggest city, landing among residential buildings. One resident described the attack as “horrendous” and the worst yet, following five days of remorseless bombardment and Russia’s invasion.

The attack came despite a call between the French president, Emmanuel Macron, and Vladimir Putin in which, according to the Elysée palace, the Russian president had said he was “willing to commit” to ending attacks on civilians and civil infrastructure while peace talks in Belarus were under way.

A school destroyed as a result of fighting not far from the centre of Kharkiv. Photograph: Sergey Bobok/AFP/Getty Images

Gruesome video footage showed the aftermath of one strike on the city’s central Klochkivska Street. A Grad missile landed outside number 197, blowing the leg off a woman who had gone shopping during a break in the curfew. She died soon afterwards.

“My brother’s colleague lives in the street. She saw what happened and heard the sound of the rocket. When she looked out from her balcony she saw the woman lying in agony, her leg blown off and to one side,” Artem Volodymyrovich, a 31-year-old English teacher, said.

The colleague – who declined to be named – took a photo from her balcony. It shows a patch of blood and the motor part of a Grad missile sticking out of the concrete pavement. A few stunned onlookers were taking pictures on their phones.

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Other video footage filmed on Monday shows a series of Russian missiles pulverising the centre of Kharkiv, apparently fired by a multiple rocket launcher system (MRLA). Flames, smoke and dust rise in a line into the sky.

At least five civilians and two soldiers were killed in Kharkiv, the Kyiv Independent newspaper reported, with 22 civilians and 20 soldiers injured. Ukraine’s interior ministry put the figure higher and said dozens had died in the attack, with hundreds injured.

The unprecedented onslaught may be retaliation for the events of Sunday, when Ukrainian forces repelled a move by Russian light armoured vehicles to enter and seize the city. Its governor, Oleh Sinegubov, said Kharkiv was under Kyiv’s control – something residents confirmed.

A man looks at a destroyed Ukrainian armoured personnel carrier in Kharkiv. Photograph: Sergey Bobok/AFP/Getty Images

Volodymyrovich said he ventured out into the streets on Monday afternoon and walked with his brother to the railway station. The situation had worsened, he said: “Bombing has been going on from morning to evening. It’s horrendous, just horrible.”

“I heard Grads. It’s different from machine gun fire which we have got used to and can identify. There are tank tracks on the asphalt on both sides of the road.” More rockets landed near the 23 August metro station, just north of the centre, he said.

He explained that he was now fleeing the city on a packed train heading to the west. “I don’t know if my train will arrive,” he said. “I’m with lots of foreigners from India and Pakistan. It’s free. There are no tickets and we are crowded in a carriage.”

Ukraine’s former defence minister Andriy Zagorodnyuk said Russia was now using multiple rocket launcher systems to target civilian infrastructure. Grad attacks were taking place in Kyiv and Mariupol, he said, amid Kremlin frustration that a military breakthrough had not yet been achieved.

Photo of a missile strike in Kharkiv on Monday. Photograph: The Guardian

“We expect Russia will adapt its tactics without changing strategic plans. That may include missiles and airstrikes on the entire depth of Ukraine,” he said.

He added: “In addition it is expected to move from the ‘accidental’ destruction of civilian objects (kindergartens, hospitals, apartment buildings) to planned and targeted terrorist activities to target civilian infrastructure. The aim is to create panic and to force capitulation.”

Kharkiv is a Russian-speaking city and home to 1.4 million people.

Vladimir Putin claimed to be protecting Russian speakers when he launched his “special operation” in Ukraine last week – a claim belied by the blatant shelling of residential areas.

“This is the protection of the Russian-speaking population? We will never forgive Russia for all these deaths,” Kristina Berdynskykh, one of Ukraine’s top journalists, tweeted on Monday.

Харьков – русскоязычный город Украины. И прямо сейчас, во время мирных переговоров, Путин уничтожает русскоязычное население города обстрелами жилых кварталов. Это и есть защита русскоязычного населения по-русски? Никогда никогда мы не простим России всех этих смертей #Ukraine — Kristina Berdynskykh (@berdynskykh_k) February 28, 2022

Another clip filmed in Kharkiv shows a Grad missile sitting in the ruined living room of a private flat. Water drops down from a hole in the ceiling. There is a growing puddle on the floor. The missile did not explode.

A usual apartment in Kharkiv today

This is what Russia does in Ukraine. pic.twitter.com/SyRTXZvov7 — Illia Ponomarenko (@IAPonomarenko) February 28, 2022

Elsewhere in Ukraine, there was a relative lull in the capital, Kyiv, where supermarkets were reopened and residents were allowed out of bomb shelters and homes for the first time since a curfew was imposed on Saturday.

The strategic port city of Mariupol was “hanging on”, according to Oleksiy Arestovich, an adviser to Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy. Residents said the eastern port city on the Sea of Azov was surrounded by Russian forces and under heavy fire.

“We hear planes in the sky. It’s overcast. We can’t tell whether there are ours or Russians’,” Anatoliy Lozar said, speaking from a basement where he was sheltering with his family.

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Lozar said he was helping evacuate civilians following another night of heavy bombardment. He said Russian warplanes had bombed the village of Shyrokyne, 12 miles (20km) west of Mariupol, with Ukrainian soldiers wounded.

The village on the frontline with the self-proclaimed separatist Donetsk people’s republic was still under Ukrainian control, he said.

He added: “We have become the new Stalingrad. We are killing Russians. Some have been taken prisoner. Families are hiding in basements. They are terrified. Huge numbers of volunteers have been joining the army. We have weapons. We will fight to the last.”

A firefighter tries to put out the fire of burning vehicles after shelling at a residential area in Kharkiv. Photograph: Ukraine State Emergency Press Servive Handout/EPA

Lozar said attempts had been made to evacuate the wounded by helicopters, which has come under Russian fire. He said some Russian diversionary groups had rented apartments inside the city ahead of the invasion and had been plotting attacks.

Despite a slow start to its five-day military offensive, and fierce Ukrainian resistance, Russia was getting closer to its strategic goal of capturing the 150 miles strip along the Sea of Azov, between the Crimean peninsula and Mariupol.

On Sunday Russian military vehicles rolled into Berdyansk, a small port city of around 100,000 people. Soldiers took over the city’s administration building. Crowds gathered outside to protest and sang the Ukrainian national anthem. They also chanted: “Putin is a dick.”

“Putin is a dickhead! Putin is a dickhead!” Ukrainians in Berdyansk are reportedly chanting slogans against the Russian troops that took the city last night pic.twitter.com/Mk49qJy0Yr — Alec Luhn (@ASLuhn) February 28, 2022

The Russian news agency Interfax reported that Russian troops had advanced from the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson towards the city of Mykolaiv.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian state communications service said in a post on Telegram that a missile had hit a residential building in the Ukrainian city of Chernihiv near the border with Belarus.

Inside Ukraine: life in a bunker as missiles fall on Kharkiv – video

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