Russian rockets kill 21 Ukrainians in Black Sea village after Snake Island withdrawal

Kremlin denies targeting civilians as battle rages for last Kyiv-held city in Luhansk region

Ukrainian officials said at least 21 people, including two children, were killed when Russian missiles struck a village near the port of Odesa, as the country’s president Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the strategic situation on the Black Sea coast had “changed significantly” with the withdrawal of Moscow’s troops from Snake Island.

Thirty-seven people were also injured in the nighttime attack on an apartment block and holiday camp in the village of Serhiivka, which was the latest in a wave of deadly missile strikes this week on Ukrainian cities. At least 18 people were killed, dozens injured and about 20 are still missing after rockets hit a shopping centre in Kremenchuk on Monday.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia “does not attack civilian targets or civilian infrastructure. It carries out strikes against military warehouses, industrial facilities where military equipment undergoes maintenance and repairs, ammunition depots and sites where mercenaries and nationalist elements are stationed and trained”.

Some Ukrainian officials suggested the attack was the Kremlin’s revenge for events around Snake Island, a small but strategic outcrop near Odesa, from which Russian troops withdrew this week; Moscow called the move a “gesture of goodwill”, but Kyiv said artillery barrages forced Russia’s contingent to retreat.

“A terrorist country is killing our people. In response to defeats on the battlefield, they fight civilians,” said Andriy Yermak, chief of staff to Mr Zelenskiy.

Mr Zelenskiy said the liberation of uninhabited Snake Island “significantly changes the situation in the Black Sea. It does not guarantee safety yet, it does not yet guarantee that the enemy will not return. But it already limits the actions of the occupiers significantly. Step by step, we will drive them out of our sea, our land, and our sky.”

He described fighting in the eastern Donbas area as “very tough” and said Russia’s advantage in the amount of artillery and ammunition it could call upon in the area was still “strongly apparent”.

“They’ve simply taken everything out of storage to hit us with,” he added, as the fiercest battles continued to rage around the industrial town of Lysychansk in Luhansk region.

“The shelling of the city is very intensive,” said Luhansk governor Serhiy Haidai. “The occupiers are destroying one house after another with heavy artillery and other weapons. Residents of Lysychansk are hiding in basements almost round the clock.”

Russia has made seizing all of Donbas – which comprises the Donetsk and Luhansk regions – its top priority after failing to capture Kyiv, Kharkiv and other major Ukrainian cities in the first weeks of its all-out war on the country, which has killed thousands of people and displaced millions.

The conflict has destroyed what were already strained relations between Russia and the West, and prompted Nato to pledge this week to dramatically reinforce elements of its security deterrence in Europe and to admit Finland and Sweden as new members.

Eleonora Mitrofanova, Russia’s envoy to Bulgaria, said on Friday she would ask Moscow to close the Sofia embassy after the EU and Nato member expelled 70 Russian diplomatic staff this week.