More than 40 Ukrainian cities and towns have been pounded by Russian missiles, leaving thousands of people without power, officials said on Thursday.
The southern city of Mykolaiv was “massively shelled” and drones were used to attack buildings near Kyiv as retaliatory attacks by Russia continued after last weekend’s fatal blast on a Crimea bridge.
President Vladimir Putin promised that his military would respond with force to the explosion on the Kerch bridge linking Russia to annexed Crimea, which he branded a “terrorist act” carried out by Ukraine’s secret service.
The latest attacks on Ukrainian settlements on Wednesday and Thursday occurred after a UN General Assembly resolution called Moscow’s annexation of four Ukrainian regions illegal and Kyiv’s allies pledged more lethal aid.
More than 30 multi-storey and private houses, gas pipelines and power lines in the city of Nikopol in the Dnipropetrovsk region were attacked and more than 2,000 families were left without electricity, the region’s governor, Valentyn Reznichenko, wrote on Telegram.
Mykolaiv, a strategic city close to the Black Sea, was “massively shelled” by the Russian army, said Oleksandr Senkevich, the city’s mayor.
The city is a major shipbuilding centre and has been targeted by Russia since the invasion was launched in February.
"A five-storey residential building was hit, the two upper floors were completely destroyed, the rest ― under rubble. Rescuers are working on the site,” he said.
Russia also targeted a settlement in the Kyiv region using explosive drones early on Thursday, the region's administration said on Telegram.
Governor of the Kyiv region, Oleksiy Kuleba, said based on preliminary information the strikes were carried out using Iran-made loitering munitions. These are often known as "kamikaze drones".
Critical infrastructure facilities were hit by the drones, said Kyrylo Tymoshenko, the deputy head of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office.
Ukraine’s air force carried out 32 strikes on 25 Russian targets, according to Ukraine's Armed Forces General Staff.
Russia reiterated its position that the West, by providing military assistance to Ukraine, had made itself a “direct party to the conflict”. Moscow warned that the admission of Ukraine to Nato risked triggering a third world war.
"Kyiv is well aware that such a step would mean a guaranteed escalation to a World War Three," deputy secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, Alexander Venediktov, told state news agency Tass on Thursday.
Jens Stoltenberg, Nato’s secretary general, said Russia’s missile attacks on Ukraine pointed to a sign of weakness. "Russia is actually losing on the battlefield," he said.
The escalation in attacks on civilians in Ukraine comes after Russia lost territory in eastern Ukraine to a counter-offensive by troops loyal to Kyiv.
Mr Putin has threatened to use nuclear weapons to protect Russian soil, which he says includes the four regions he annexed last month. He declared Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzia and Kherson part of the Russian Federation after referendums in the oblasts, which were dismissed by western powers as sham polls.
US President Joe Biden on Wednesday said he doubted that Mr Putin would resort to nuclear options.
A senior Nato official said a Russian nuclear strike would almost certainly trigger a "physical response" from Ukraine's allies and potentially from the transatlantic military alliance.