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Firefighters work at compound of a printworks hit by Russian missile strikes, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kharkiv, on May 23.Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters

Russian missiles slammed into Ukraine’s second-largest city in the country’s northeast and killed at least seven civilians early Thursday, officials said, as Kyiv’s army laboured to hold off an intense cross-border offensive by the Kremlin’s larger and better-equipped forces.

At least 20 people were wounded as S-300 missiles struck the city of Kharkiv, regional Governor Oleh Syniehubov said. Explosions reverberated around the city of some 1 million people.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called the attack “extremely cruel” and expressed renewed frustration at not getting enough air defence systems from the country’s Western partners to prevent the barrages after more than two years of unrelenting war.

The city of Kharkiv, which is the capital of the region of the same name, is about 20 kilometres (12 miles) from the Russian border. Moscow’s troops have in recent weeks captured villages in the area as part of a broad push, and analysts say they may be trying to get within artillery range of the city.

The Russian push is shaping up to be Ukraine’s biggest test since Moscow’s full-scale invasion in February, 2022, with outnumbered and outgunned Ukrainian forces being pressed at several points along the about 1,000-kilometre (600-mile) front line that snakes from north to south in eastern Ukraine.

With Kyiv short of air defences and waiting for more Western military support that only recently started trickling in, Ukraine’s army has been pushed back in places while Russia has pounded its power grid and civilian areas. Kyiv endured further power outages on Thursday.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the attacks underscored the country’s “urgent” need for more U.S.-made Patriot systems to defend its skies.

Germany recently pledged one of the missile systems “but getting six more as soon as possible remains critical not only for Ukraine’s survival but for peace in Europe,” Mr. Kuleba wrote on the social media platform X.

The United States is expected to announce an additional US$275-million in military aid for Ukraine on Friday, two U.S. officials told the Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity to provide details of the support before the public announcement.

But no air defence systems appear to be included in the package containing high mobility artillery rocket systems, or HIMARS, as well as essential 155 millimetre and 105 mm artillery rounds.

Mr. Zelensky said the main hot spots in recent fighting have been Kharkiv and the neighbouring Donetsk region, where Ukraine’s defenders withdrew in February from the stronghold of Avdiivka. For the Kremlin, taking control of all of partially occupied Donetsk is a war priority.

At the same time, and in an apparent effort to stretch Ukraine’s depleted forces, Russian troops have made incursions in the northern Sumy region.

Nearly 1,500 people, including 200 children, have been evacuated from the towns of Bilopillia and Vorozhba there, according to regional Governor Volodymyr Artiukh.

“The main focus [of the fighting] is on the entire border area,” Mr. Zelensky said in his nightly video address Wednesday.

In Liubotyn, a small town about 10 kilometres (6 miles) west of the city of Kharkiv, Russian missiles struck the town’s centre, wounding eight civilians. In Derhachi, another nearby town, 13 people were wounded in another aerial strike, authorities said.

Russia’s Defence Ministry said Thursday that its forces had taken control of the Donetsk settlement of Andriivka, which Ukrainian forces had held since gruelling combat in September that left the village in ruins.

Elsewhere in Donetsk, Russian forces claimed advances in the vicinity of Chasiv Yar, Konstantinovka and Rozdolivka.

It was not possible to independently verify the claims. Recent Russian advances have been incremental.

Ukraine has also trained its sights on regions across the border in Russia.

Russia’s Defence Ministry said Thursday that 35 Ukrainian rockets and three drones were shot down over the Belgorod region. Regional Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said one drone struck a house and exploded after being shot down, killing a woman.

Russia pounded Kharkiv with missiles on Thursday, killing seven people inside a printing house, as President Volodymyr Zelenskiy chided Ukraine's western allies for not providing enough military support to rebuff Russian attacks.

Reuters

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