Russian missiles struck a city in central Ukraine on Thursday, killing more than 20 people and wounding about 90 more, Ukrainian authorities said.
Ukraine's president called the attack in Vinnytsia, far from the front lines, “an open act of terrorism” on the country’s civilian population in areas with no military value.
Ukrainian officials called it a war crime and put the number of dead on Thursday afternoon at 23, including three children. Another 66 people were being treated in hospital. Ukraine's emergency service said nearly 40 people were missing.
According to Ukraine’s national police, three missiles hit an office building and damaged nearby residential buildings in the city, located 268 kilometres southwest of the capital, Kyiv. The missile strike ignited a fire that expanded to engulf 50 cars in an adjacent parking lot.
A Russian submarine in the Black Sea fired Kalibr cruise missiles at the city, with three children among the dead, the deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential office, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, wrote on the Telegram messaging app. The Russian military, which denies targeting civilians, did not immediately confirm the strike.
The governor of the Vinnytsia region, Serhiy Borzov, said Ukrainian air defence systems shot down another four missiles over the area.
Vinnytsia is one of Ukraine's largest cities, with a population of about 370,000.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that the missile strike was deliberately aimed at terrorising civilians.
“Every day Russia is destroying the civilian population, killing Ukrainian children, directing missiles at civilian objects. Where there is no military (targets). What is it if not an open act of terrorism?” Zelenskyy wrote on Telegram.
Video footage showed thick black smoke billowing out of a tall building, while photographs posted online by the State Emergency Service showed grey smoke rising later from the twisted remains of burnt-out cars and smouldering rubble.
One showed an abandoned, overturned pram lying on the street.
In comments on Twitter, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba accused Russia of committing "another war crime".
"This is terrorism. Deliberate murder of civilians to spread fear. Russia is a terrorist state and must be legally recognised as such," Kuleba wrote.
Deputy UN spokesman Farhan Haq said that Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was "appalled" by the missile attack. "The Secretary-General condemns any attacks against civilians or civilian infrastructure and reiterates his call for accountability for such violations," he added.
The strike occurred as government officials from about 40 countries met in The Hague to discuss coordinating efforts to investigate and prosecute potential war crimes in Ukraine. In a recorded video message President Zelenskyy called for a special war crimes tribunal to be set up for the Russian invasion.
The Vinnytsia strike also came after Ukraine’s presidential office reported the deaths of five civilians and the wounding of another eight in Russian attacks over the past 24 hours.
One person was wounded when a missile damaged several buildings in the southern city of Mykolaiv early Thursday, Ukrainian authorities said. A missile attack on Wednesday killed at least five people in the city.
Russian forces have also continued artillery and missile attacks in eastern Ukraine, primarily in Donetsk province, after overtaking adjacent Luhansk.
The city of Lysychansk, the last major stronghold of Ukrainian resistance in Luhansk, fell to Russian forces at the beginning of July.