By Dan Peleschuk and Sergiy Chalyi
KYIV/ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine (Reuters) – Russia blasted an apartment block in Ukraine with missiles on Wednesday and swarmed cities with drone attacks overnight, in a display of force as President Vladimir Putin bid farewell to his visiting “dear friend” and Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
Firefighters battled a blaze in two adjacent residential buildings in the southern city of Zaporizhzhia, where officials said at least one person was killed and 33 wounded by a twin missile strike.
In Rzhyshchiv, a riverside town south of Kyiv, at least eight people were killed and seven injured after a drone struck two dormitories and a college, regional police chief Andrii Nebytov said.
“This must not become ‘just another day’ in Ukraine or anywhere else in the world. The world needs greater unity and determination to defeat Russian terror faster and protect lives,” President Volodymyr Zelenskiy tweeted, with security camera video showing one building exploding.
A playground and a car park at the scene in Zaporizhzhia were littered with glass, debris and wrecked cars. Emergency workers carried out the wounded or escorted those who could walk.
An elderly woman with scratches on her face sat alone on a bench, wiping tears and whispering prayers.
“When I got out, there was destruction, smoke, people screaming, debris. Then the firefighters and rescuers came,” said Ivan Nalyvaiko, 24.
During the night, sirens blared across the capital and parts of northern Ukraine, and the military said it had shot down 16 of 21 Iranian-made Shahed suicide drones.
Zelenskiy visited troops near the front line. His office released video of him handing out medals to soldiers, which it said was filmed near Bakhmut, the eastern city where Ukrainian forces are mounting a defence in what has become Europe’s deadliest infantry battle since World War Two.
“It is painful to see the cities of Donbas … to which Russia has brought terrible suffering and ruin,” Zelenskiy said in a nightly video address, referring to the larger eastern region around Bakhmut that Russia claims as its territory.
He cited nearly constant sounds of air raid sirens in the city of Kramatorsk and threats of shelling.
International groups estimate rebuilding Ukraine will cost $411 billion – 2.6 times Ukraine’s 2022 gross domestic product.
Hosting Xi in Moscow this week was Putin’s grandest diplomatic gesture since he ordered the invasion of neighbour Ukraine 13 months ago and became a pariah in the West. The two men referred to each other as “dear friend”, promised economic cooperation, condemned the West and described relations as the best they have ever been.
Xi departed telling Putin: “Now there are changes that haven’t happened in 100 years. When we are together, we drive these changes.”
“I agree,” Putin said.
But the public remarks were notably short of specifics, and during the visit Xi had almost nothing to say about the Ukraine war, beyond that China’s position was “impartial”.
The White House urged Beijing to pressure Russia to withdraw. Washington also criticised the timing of the trip, just days after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Putin on war crimes charges.
China has proposed a peace plan for Ukraine that the West largely dismisses as vague at best, and at worst a ploy to buy time for Putin to regroup his forces.
Ukraine says there can be no peace unless Russia withdraws from occupied land. Moscow says Kyiv must recognise territorial “realities” after its claim to have annexed nearly a fifth of Ukraine.
Russia’s only notable gains have been around Bakhmut, but Kyiv has decided in recent weeks not to withdraw there, saying its defenders were inflicting enough losses on the Russian attackers to justify holding out.
In an intelligence update, Britain’s ministry of defence said that while there was still a risk the Ukrainian garrison in Bakhmut could be surrounded, Russia’s assault on the city could be running out of steam. Ukraine’s military General Staff agreed, saying Russia’s offensive potential in Bakhmut was declining.
A Ukrainian counterattack in recent days west of Bakhmut was likely to relieve pressure on Ukraine’s supply route, the British ministry said.
(Reporting by Reuters bureaux; Writing by Peter Graff, Frank Jack Daniel and Cynthia Osterman; Editing by Philippa Fletcher, Andrew Cawthorne and Grant McCool)