At least 17 people have been killed and dozens more wounded after a Russian missile struck a crowded outdoor market in eastern Ukraine – the attack coming as Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, was in Kyiv for an unannounced visit.
President Volodymyr Zelensky condemned the attack in the city of Kostiantynivka, saying that a child was among the dead. Kostiantynivka – which had a pre-war population of around 70,000 – sits about 20 miles (30km) from the ruined city of Bakhmut, the scene for some of the bloodiest fighting of Russia’s invasion.
Police said that nearly 30 stalls, a pharmacy, an apartment block, a bank, and a number of cars were damaged as the missile hit at 2pm local time. Officials said more than 30 people were injured.
Video footage of the strike showed people looking up to the sky as they heard a missile approaching. Seconds later they are running for cover or falling to the ground after a huge explosion. Another video released by police showed rescuers searching through the kiosks and, as bodies were taken out in black sacks, people shouting: “Who have you found?”
It also showed the floor of the pharmacy covered in blood, as a police spokeswoman can be heard saying: “At the moment of the strike civilians were here, they were buying medicines and this is what happened. People died here.”
“This Russian evil must be defeated as soon as possible,” Mr Zelensky said on the Telegram messaging app. “When someone in the world still attempts to deal with anything Russian, it means turning a blind eye to this reality. The audacity of evil. The brazenness of wickedness. Utter inhumanity.”
He later told a press conference in Kyiv that he believed it had been a deliberate attack on “a peaceful city”.
Hours before the strike on Kostiantynivka, booms could be heard in the capital Kyiv as the train carrying Mr Blinken wound its way to the city, the Russians appearing to want to herald his arrival with a missile attack. No casualties were reported in the capital but local officials said one person was killed in the Odesa region where Russian missiles also fell.
Mr Blinken’s two-day visit is a show of Washington’s continued support for Mr Zelensky and the Ukrainian war effort. The secretary of state is the first senior US official to visit Kyiv since its counteroffensive against Vladimir Putin’s forces began in early June. Mr Blinken met with Mr Zelensky on Wednesday and also held talks with foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba.
Mr Blinken is also expected to announce a new package of US assistance. The total package will be worth up to $1 billion (£800 million), but may not all be announced by Mr Blinken in Kyiv.
“We want to make sure that Ukraine has what it needs, not only to succeed in the counteroffensive, but has what it needs for the long term, to make sure that it has a strong deterrent,” Mr Blinken said standing alongside Mr Kuleba.
A US State Department official said Washington wanted to discuss how the counteroffensive was going and assess battlefield needs as well as any steps that might be required to shore up Ukraine’s energy security before winter.
“I think what’s most important is that we get a real assessment from the Ukrainians themselves,” the official told Reuters. “We want to see, and hear how they intend to push forward in the coming weeks.”
When asked about Mr Blinken’s visit, Dmitry Peskov, spokesperson for the Kremlin, said that Moscow believed Washington planned to continue funding Ukraine’s military “to wage this war to the last Ukrainian”.
During his train ride to Kyiv, Mr Blinken held talks with Denmark’s prime minister Mette Frederiksen, who was conducting her own visit to Kyiv. The US secretary of state thanked Ms Frederiksen for Denmark’s donation of F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine and its membership of a coalition of nations – including the UK – training Ukrainian pilots.
Denmark and the Netherlands announced last month they would supply more than 60 US-made F-16s as soon as pilots are trained to fly them. They are the first countries to offer the jets.
Also on Wednesday, Ukraine’s parliament approved the appointment of Rustem Umerov as the country’s new defence minister. Mr Umerov replaces Oleksii Reznikov, who helped secure billions of pounds of Western military aid, but was sacked by Mr Zelensky. Mr Reznikov’s ministry was dogged by a number of scandals involving corruption allegations. The former minister did not face corruption allegations himself, but says he is the victim of a smear campaign.
Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report
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