At least 21 people were killed and dozens injured early Friday in Russian missile strikes in Ukraine’s Odesa region. At least one of the sites hit was a residential building. Ukrainian military officials said two children were among the dead, and the search for survivors was ongoing.
The nine-story residential building is in the town of Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi, according to a Ukraine Defense Ministry statement.
Serhiy Bratchuk, spokesman for the Odesa regional administration, said on Ukrainian state television that a rescue operation was continuing to free people buried under the rubble after a section of the building collapsed. Another missile hit a resort facility, Bratchuk said, wounding several people.
Russia has denied targeting civilians in the attack. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s chief of staff accused Russia of waging a war on civilians.
The Odesa attack followed Russia’s report Thursday that it had pulled its forces from Ukraine’s Snake Island, which had become a symbol of Ukrainian resistance since Moscow’s invasion began in late February.
Russia had used the Black Sea island near the port city of Odesa as a staging ground after seizing it in the early stages of the war, launching attacks on Ukraine from it and monitoring shipments from Ukrainian ports.
Ukraine confirmed that Russian forces had pulled out after Ukrainian forces hit the island with missile and artillery strikes, leaving the remaining Russian forces to escape in two speedboats.
The Russian Defense Ministry said it left the small island “as a symbol of goodwill” after completing its mission there. It said the departure demonstrated that Russia does not interfere with the export of Ukrainian grain, although global monitors say otherwise. Developing nations, especially in the Middle East, depend on Ukraine and Russia for their wheat.
A regional Ukrainian official said that for the first time in months, a cargo ship filled with 7,000 tons of grain left the port of Russian-occupied Berdyansk on Thursday. The official said it was government-owned grain and that the ship was sailing toward “friendly countries.”
In other developments, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told Ukraine’s parliament that EU membership was “within reach” but urged lawmakers to press forward with anti-corruption reforms.
“You have created an impressive anti-corruption machine,” she told the lawmakers by video link Friday. Von der Leyen stressed that Brussels and the EU member states were firmly behind Ukraine in both its battle with Russia and the quest to be “reunited with our European family.” For his part, Zelenskyy said Ukraine and the European Union were starting a new chapter of their history after Brussels formally accepted Ukraine’s candidacy to join the 27-nation bloc.
“We made a journey of 115 days to candidate status and our journey to membership shouldn’t take decades. We should make it down this road quickly,” Zelenskyy said.
At the NATO meeting in Madrid, Western leaders, including U.S. President Joe Biden, proclaimed their continued military and humanitarian support for Ukraine.
Norway announced $1 billion in aid to Ukraine over two years, as Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store visited the country.
The fund is for “humanitarian aid, reconstruction of the country, weapons and operational support to the [Ukrainian] authorities,” the Norwegian government said in a statement Friday.
“We stand together with the Ukrainian people,” Store said in the statement. “We help support the Ukrainians’ struggle for freedom. They are fighting for their country, but also for our democratic values.”