As Russia Strikes Ukrainian Civilians, Putin Tells His People the War Is Just

“This is not a repeat of history; this is the daily reality of our country,” Zelensky said in a statement after the attack on Wednesday night.

Kramatorsk has been the target of frequent rocket attacks by Russian forces since the war began in February, but in recent weeks, attacks on the city center have intensified as Russian forces prepare for a long-awaited offensive to take over the entire Donbas region of Ukraine. The city, a sprawling industrial center that was home to some 200,000 people before the war, represents a serious impediment to Russia’s control of the region.

Kramatorsk is also just 20 miles northwest of a more immediate Russian target, the smaller town of Bakhmut, and is vital to Ukraine’s efforts to resupply its forces in Bakhmut. Kremlin forces have fought for months to conquer Bakhmut, at enormous cost in Russian casualties, and its fall would be Moscow’s first significant military victory since the summer.

Both sides, with their forces slowed by winter conditions, are expected to attempt major offensives in the coming weeks. But Zelensky has said that increasing artillery strikes in the east, coupled with a large Russian troop buildup in the occupied parts of eastern Ukraine, suggest the Russians may be starting one now.

Addressing the Ukrainians on Thursday night, Zelensky expressed confidence that his country would prevail, but acknowledged that the Russians could still inflict pain.

“Tactically,” he said, “they still have the resources to attempt offensive action. They are looking for options to try to change the course of the war and they are trying to put the potential of all the territories they still control at the service of aggression.”

michael schwirtz reported from Kramatorsk, Ukraine, and Anton Troyanovsky of Berlin The report was contributed by eric nagourney, marc santora, Matthew Mpoke Bigg, Bengali Shashank Y erin mendell.