The strikes appear to fit a broader pattern in which Russia has launched attacks into seemingly quiet parts of Ukraine, upending lives and infuriating Ukrainians. Videos of the strikes appear to back Ukrainian claims, said a senior U.S. defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the Pentagon.
“I saw the same videos that you all saw,” the official told reporters. “I didn’t see anything there that looked anything close to military. That looked like an apartment building.”
The spike in civilian deaths has occurred as Russian and Ukrainian forces remain locked in pitched combat in eastern Ukraine, with territory typically changing hands only a bit at a time and at high cost to both sides.
Asked whether the war, which is closing in on its five-month mark, had entered a stalemate, the senior U.S. defense official said it was too soon to say.
The official noted that Ukrainian troops continue to hold off Russia’s attempts to gain ground around the northeastern city of Kharkiv, and that while Russian commanders want to move on the eastern city of Slovyansk, they have “not been able to do so.”
Ukraine is using sophisticated multiple-launch rocket systems, including the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System provided by the United States, to attack Russian equipment behind the front lines.
“They’re … striking targets like ammunition supplies, other logistical supplies, command-and-control,” the senior U.S. defense official said. “All those things have a direct impact on the ability to affect operations on the front lines.”
Ukrainian forces also have begun some efforts to retake areas in the southern part of the country that had been seized by Russia. In the Kherson region, 44 settlements have been reclaimed in the counteroffensive, Ukraine’s acting head of the region’s military administration said Thursday.
Most of the region, which Russian forces captured at the start of the war, remains occupied, the official, Dmytro Burtiy, said in an interview with the Ukraine Media Center. But Russia has pivoted the focus of its invasion to the northeast in recent months, giving Ukraine an opening to retake some territory. The counteroffensive has brought a fresh round of fighting to villages in the area.
“They’re having a very hard time because the Russian occupier is constantly shelling these localities, there’s widespread destruction, ruination, infrastructure is being destroyed, kindergarten schools, residential buildings,” Burtiy said.
The senior U.S. defense official said that it was unclear from Washington’s latest intelligence what those settlements look like.
“I do know,” he said, “that Ukrainians have made small gains in pockets in the south.”
Claire Parker contributed to this report.