Kyiv, Ukraine (AFP) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky Russia was accused of trying to humiliate the United Nations by firing missiles at Kyiv during a visit to the city by the United Nations Secretary-General, in a deadly attack that shattered weeks of relative calm in the capital.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian forces fought to repel Russian attempts to advance in the south and east, Zelensky reported. Efforts supported by the United Nations continued to arrange safe passage for people trapped in the rubble of Mariupol. Several previous attempts to evacuate civilians have failed.
Russia bombed targets across Ukraine on Thursday, hitting a high-rise apartment block and another in Kyiv just as life appeared to be getting a little closer to normal. The US-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty said one of its journalists had been killed.
Separately, a former US Marine was killed While fighting alongside Ukrainian forces, relatives said the first known death of an American in the war. The United States did not confirm the news. At least two other foreigners fighting on the Ukrainian side were also killed, one from Britain and one from Denmark.
In an apparent reference to the attack in Kyiv, the Russian military said it had destroyed “production buildings” at the Artem Defense Plant.
The bombing came just an hour after Zelensky held a press conference with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who toured some of the devastation in and around Kyiv and condemned the attacks on civilians.
“This says a lot about Russia’s true attitude toward global institutions, and about the attempts of the Russian leadership to humiliate the United Nations and everything the organization stands for,” Zelensky said late Thursday in his Nightly Address to the Nation. “Therefore, it requires a strong response in return.”
Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said the attack was Russian President Vladimir Putin’s way of giving his “middle finger” to Guterres.
The strikes were the boldest Russian attack on the capital since Russian forces withdrew weeks ago after failing to seize the city. Russia is now pressing Donbas, the country’s eastern industrial region, which the Kremlin says is its main target.
Volodymyr Fesenko, a Ukrainian political analyst and head of the Kyiv-based Penta Center think tank, said the Kyiv attack carried a message: “Russia is sending a clear signal that it intends to continue the war despite international pressure.”
Getting a full picture of the battle going on in the east was difficult because the air strikes and artillery shelling made the movement of journalists too dangerous. Both Ukraine and Moscow-backed rebels fighting in the east have also tightly restricted reporting from the combat zone.
But so far, Russian and separatist forces appear to have made only minor gains, and the British Ministry of Defense said those gains have come at great cost to the Kremlin’s forces.
One of the goals of Guterres’ visit was to secure the evacuation of people from the devastated southern port of Mariupol.
It is believed that about 100,000 people are trapped in the city with little water, food, heating and electricity. An estimated 2,000 Ukrainian gunners and 1,000 civilians were holed up in a wrecked steel mill in the city’s last major resistance stronghold.
The Soviet-era steel mill has an extensive network of underground bunkers capable of withstanding air strikes. But the situation became more dangerous after the Russians dropped “bunker-busting missiles” and other bombs.
“Locals who managed to leave Mariupol say that it is hell, but when they leave this castle, they say that it is worse,” said the mayor of Mariupol, Vadim Boychenko. “They are begging to be saved,” he said, adding, “There, it is not a matter of days, it is a matter of hours.”
Ukraine has blamed the failure of previous evacuation attempts on continued Russian bombing.
“We hope there will be a slight human touch in the enemy,” Boychenko said this time.
The regional governor said that Russian missiles hit two towns in the Dnipropetrovsk region in central Ukraine on Friday. There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage.
Sirens, artillery fire, and explosions can be heard from Kramatorsk to Sloviansk, two cities about 18 kilometers (11 miles) apart in the Donbass. Plumes of smoke rose from the Slovensk region and neighboring cities. At least one person was reported injured in the bombing.
The governor of Russia’s Kursk region said a border post was hit by mortars from Ukraine and that Russian border forces returned fire. He said there were no casualties on the Russian side.
His mother, Rebecca Cabrera, told CNN that former US Marine Willie Joseph Kansel, 22, was killed Monday while working for a military contracting company that sent him to Ukraine.
“He wanted to go because he believed in what Ukraine was fighting for, and he wanted to be a part of it to contain it there so he wouldn’t come here, and maybe our American soldiers wouldn’t do it,” she said.
The Marine Corps said Cancellation served four years but was discharged for bad behavior and sentenced to five months in prison for breaking orders. No details were provided about the violation.
In the wake of Thursday’s missile attack in Kyiv, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty said the body of journalist Vera Herrich, who lives in one of the buildings, was found under the rubble. Ten people were injured, at least one of whom lost a leg, according to emergency officials.
Jimmy Fly, president of Radio Free Europe, said the organization was “shocked and outraged at the senseless nature of her death at home in a country and city she loved.”
Kyiv has been relatively unscathed in recent weeks, and cafes and other businesses have begun to reopen, while increasing numbers of people have been outside, enjoying the spring weather.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian forces are cracking down on people accused of helping Russian forces. In the Kharkiv region alone, nearly 400 people were arrested under the anti-cooperation laws enacted after the Russian invasion on February 24.
In Russia, international sanctions imposed on the Kremlin due to the invasion are putting pressure on the country. The Russian Central Bank said the Russian economy is expected to contract by up to 10% this year, and the outlook is “very uncertain”.
The huge human cost of the war, which has driven more than 11 million Ukrainians from their homes, continues to rise.
In Lyman, a town in Donbass, shells rained down on Tatiana Matsegura’s home this week. Igor, Matsegura’s 14-year-old grandson, was pronounced dead after rescue workers took him to the hospital. Her daughter was in a serious condition and her son-in-law was also killed.
“Grandma, will I live?” Asked her when they were downstairs, said Igor, waiting for help. “I said he would live. But look what happened: I betrayed him.”
This story has been updated to correct that Thursday’s attack on Kyiv was the boldest attack since Moscow withdrew, and not necessarily the first, and also to correct the spelling of the last name of the woman who lost her grandson to Matsegora.
Associated Press reporters John Gambrel and Juras Karmanau in Lviv, Mstislav Chernov in Kharkiv, Jesica Fisch in Slovensk, and AP staff around the world contributed to this report.
Follow the AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine