Russia hits civilian targets anew, EU officials visit Kyiv


KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian missiles hit residential areas in an eastern Ukrainian city Thursday for the second time in 24 hours, while top European Union officials held talks with the government in Kyiv as the war with Russia approaches its one-year milestone.

The latest strikes in Kramatorsk came as rescue crews searched for survivors in the rubble of an apartment building hit late Wednesday by a Russian missile that killed at least three people and wounded 21 others. At least one more victim was thought to be under the debris, Ukraine’s presidential office said.

“Kramatorsk again shattered by explosions — the Russians made two more rocket strikes,” regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko wrote in a Telegram post.

He said at least five civilians were wounded in the latest strikes, which hit residential buildings as well as a children’s clinic and a school in the heart of the city. Kramatorsk Mayor Oleksandr Honcharenko urged residents to stay in shelters.

Kramatorsk is a major hub for the Ukrainian military in the east.

No further details of Thursday’s attack were immediately available.

Russia has frequently struck apartment buildings during the war, causing civilian casualties, although the Kremlin has denied targeting residential structures.

Russian shelling across Ukraine over the previous 24 hours killed at least eight civilians and wounded 29 others, the presidential office said. Along with the victims in Kramatorsk, the toll included four who died when a Russian mortar shell hit a basement where they were sheltering in the northeastern Chernihiv region.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy met with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen ahead of what officials described as a summit on Friday. The last such summit was held in Kyiv in October 2021 — a few months before the war started on Feb. 24, 2022.

Von der Leyen praised wartime Ukraine’s “brilliant application” for European Union membership, though Brussels officials note that Ukraine joining the 27-nation bloc is still a long way off.

Ahead of possible membership, Von der Leyen said, the Commission is proposing that Kyiv “join key European programs — this will give Ukraine benefits close to those of EU membership in many areas.”

EU assistance for Ukraine, she said, has reached $55 billion since the start of Russia’s war.

She said the EU plans to adopt a 10th package of sanctions again Russia before Feb. 24. Von der Leyen also announced that the International Center for the Prosecution of the Crime of Aggression in Ukraine would be set up in The Hague to coordinate the collection of evidence of war crimes.

Von der Leyen, on her fourth visit to Kyiv since Russia’s invasion, added that she was “comforted” by Ukraine’s anti-corruption drive. Stamping out endemic corruption is a key condition for joining the EU.

Zelenskyy on Wednesday took aim at corrupt officials for the second time in the space of a week. Several high-ranking officials were dismissed.

Zelenskyy was elected in 2019 on an anti-establishment and anti-corruption platform in a country long gripped by graft.

The latest corruption allegations came as Western allies are channeling billions of dollars to help Kyiv fight Moscow’s forces and as the Ukrainian government is introducing reforms so it can potentially join the EU.

Ukraine's government is keen to get more Western military aid, on top of the tanks pledged last week, as the warring sides are expected to launch new offensives once winter ends. Kyiv is now asking for fighter jets.

Kyiv expects Russia to “attempt something” on the Feb. 24 anniversary, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov told France’s BFM television. He stressed his government’s urgency on getting weapons without delay.

“We are telling our partners that we too need to be ready as fast as possible,” he said in an interview late Wednesday.