Russians Hit Ukrainian Hospital as Both Sides Step Up Long-Range Strikes

KYIV, Ukraine — Explosions well behind the front lines rocked Ukraine on Friday as a Russian missile demolished part of a hospital complex and apparent Ukrainian strikes hit cities occupied by Russia in its escalating long-range air war.

The attack on a medical center in the central city of Dnipro killed at least two people, left three others missing and injured at least 30, Ukrainian officials said. It destroyed a three-story building and damaged several others.

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine posted a video on social media of a gutted building, with its roof and upper walls missing, spewing smoke into the sky, calling it “another crime against humanity.”

Ukraine is expected to launch a major counter-offensive soon — some analysts say it may already be in its early stages — and both sides have intensified their attacks from a distance ahead of the confrontation on the ground. Kiev’s forces have increased the pace and scope of attacks deep into Russian-controlled territory, primarily on military depots, troop convoys and concentrations, and railways used by Russian forces.

On Friday, explosions were reported in the Russian-occupied southern city of Berdyansk, some 60 miles from the front, for the second time this week. Vladimir Rogov, a Russian occupation officer in southern Ukraine, said several loud explosions resounded in Berdyansk overnight and Russian air defenses thwarted a Ukrainian attack, a claim that could not be confirmed.

The Ukrainian military did not comment specifically on Berdyansk, but said its air force had “launched five strikes against groups of enemy manpower and equipment.” GeoConfirmed, one of several volunteer groups closely monitoring battlefield movements in Ukraine, images posted on Twitter showing a large fire and said hits had been recorded in Berdyansk, although it was unclear what was hit.

On Friday night, there were two large explosions in another occupied southern city, Mariupol, about 40 miles from Berdyansk, near the Azovstal steel plant, according to Mariupol city government officials who fled before the Russians took control. . Russian occupation officials said the explosions were caused by Ukrainian missilesrecently supplied by Britain, according to the state news agency Tass.

The attack on the hospital in Dnipro on Friday morning followed one of Russia’s increasingly frequent nightly bombardments targeting cities and infrastructure far from the battlefield, with missiles and drones fired in clusters in an attempt to overwhelm air defenses. ukrainian Ukraine’s military said it had destroyed 10 of 17 missiles launched and 23 of 31 attack drones.

“Only an evil state can fight the clinics,” Zelensky wrote on Twitter. “There can be no military purpose in this. It’s pure terror.”

The Russian Defense Ministry told state media that it had attacked Ukrainian ammunition depots.

The city of Dnipro is a hub for Ukrainian soldiers wounded in battle, usually a first stop before being transported to hospitals in other parts of the country. It was not clear if any Ukrainian soldiers were being treated at the facility that was attacked on Friday.

“It was a really difficult night,” said Serhii Lysak, head of the Dnipro regional government. One of the people killed, he said, was a 69-year-old man who was “walking by” when the hospital was attacked.

Since the start of President Vladimir V. Putin’s full-scale invasion 15 months ago, Russia has used its weapons advantage to bomb civilian targets across Ukraine, including hospitals, schools and power plants, which is considered a war crime. . At first, long-range attacks were totally one-sided and largely unimpeded.

But as Ukraine’s armed forces have gained experience and obtained an increasing variety of Western weapons, they have become more adept at intercepting such Russian attacks and more capable of responding in kind.

Last summer, the United States began supplying Ukraine with HIMARS rocket artillery systems with a range of about 50 miles, making a crucial difference in the battle. In December, Ukraine demonstrated that it could adapt Soviet-era surveillance drones into long-range weapons to strike inside Russia. And this month, Britain began providing Ukraine with high-precision air-launched Storm Shadow cruise missiles with a range of about 150 miles, far enough to reach any corner of Russian-occupied Ukraine.

After an attack in Berdyansk on Sunday, local Russian officials claimed that kyiv had used the newly acquired Storm Shadow.

Russian forces have turned Berdyansk, a port on the Azov Sea, into a military stronghold, using it as a base for soldiers and a transit point for suppliesaccording to military analysts.

Closer to the front lines in the Donetsk region, Russian forces broke a dam in the Vovcha river on Thursday, triggering downstream flooding that threatened six villages, home to nearly 1,000 people, Pavlo Kyrylenko, Ukraine’s regional administrator, said on Friday. The attack may have been an attempt to prevent Ukrainian troop movements behind the lines, a tactic both sides have used in this war.

The Ukrainian government has repeatedly warned about the risk of Russia blowing up the much larger Kakhovka dam on the Dnipro River, flooding a much wider area and lowering the level of the reservoir that cools the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, creating an emergency there.

Late on Friday, Ukrainian military intelligence warned that the Russians planned to create an emergency at the power plant they occupy “in the next few hours” to provide a pretext for a ceasefire that would prevent a counter-offensive. The Ukrainian government has issued warnings before about threats to the plant, but it has rarely been that specific.

“A stoppage will take place” at the plant, followed by the announcement of a radioactive leak, the intelligence department said on Telegram, adding that the Russians would blame Ukraine. Energoatom, the Ukrainian nuclear power company, repeated the accusation.

The Ukrainians did not offer proof of the claim, so it is not clear if this could be a case of disinformation aimed at throwing off the Russians. Hours later, a Russian occupation official claimed that it was the Ukrainians who were planning to create an emergency at the plant.

The United States is monitoring the situation closely but has seen no information to support the idea that an incident is planned, said a US official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters. The United States has direct access to data from radiation sensors in the area, the official said.

The United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency has inspectors at the Zaporizhzhia plant, and a rotation of some arriving and some departing was supposed to take place on Friday. The Ukrainians said that the Russians interrupted it. The Russian state energy company that now oversees the plant told Tass that the Ukrainians had blocked it.

The UN agency declined to comment.

On the diplomatic front, Pope Francis, who has offered the Vatican as a mediator, has refused to endorse the position of Ukraine and many of its Western backers that Russia must return all Ukrainian territory it has seized. kyiv has called it a prerequisite for peace talks, insisting that otherwise any ceasefire would simply consolidate Russian gains.

In an interview on Thursday, in Spanish, with the telemundo chainFrancis was asked twice if Russia should cede the territory. The first time, he didn’t answer the question directly.

“It’s a political issue,” he said the second time. “Peace will be achieved once they can talk to each other.”

Andrew E. Kramer and maria varenikova contributed reporting from Pokrovsk, Ukraine, and Julian E. Barnes from washington