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A rescuer from the K9 unit returns from the mission in Vinnytsia, Ukraine, on July 14.Anton Skyba/The Globe and Mail

For Serhii Shvets, the morning began like any other in his Vinnytsia apartment. He was in the kitchen, his six-year-old son was eating breakfast and his wife was in the bathroom. Then, he saw a rocket outside. As he grabbed his son, covering him with his body, the glass windows in their apartment exploded.

Mr. Shvets, 32, and his family live near two community buildings that were struck by Russian missiles Thursday morning. The attack on the populated city centre in west central Ukraine has killed at least 23 people, including three children, and wounded more than 100.

A stroller covered in blood laid tipped over in front of the buildings.

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the attack deliberately targeted civilians in locations without military value. “What is this, if not an open act of terrorism?” he wrote on Telegram.

Appearing virtually at an international conference in The Hague on the issue of prosecuting war crimes in Ukraine, Mr. Zelensky said Thursday’s attack was on “an ordinary, peaceful city” where there was no apparent military target. “Cruise missiles hit two community facilities, houses were destroyed, a medical centre was destroyed, cars and trams were on fire,” he said.

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War crimes prosecutors at the scene of the rocket attack in Vinnytsia to collect evidence.Anton Skyba/The Globe and Mail

One building targeted is called the House of Services, which contained a medical clinic, shops and offices. The building next to it is a cultural centre called the House of Officers, where concerts were held. Before the attack, Roxolana, a Ukrainian singer, was scheduled to perform a charitable concert Thursday evening.

Ukrainian officials said the attack was carried out with Kalibre cruise missiles launched from a Russian submarine in the Black Sea. Ukraine’s Interior Minister Denys Monastyrskyi said four rockets were launched and two of them were intercepted. Mr. Monastyrskyi called it “another war crime.”

He pointed out that Vinnytsia is situated far from the front lines where the war has been raging in the south and east of Ukraine. An air-raid alert sounded shortly after 10 a.m. and a half-hour later, the explosion happened.

The Russian defence ministry, which denies deliberately targeting civilians, did not immediately comment on the strike. Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of Russia Today, a state-directed media outlet, wrote on her official Telegram channel that she asked the Russian defense ministry where it hit in Vinnytsia and its response was that one of the buildings was a temporary station for Nazis.

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Rescue workers on the scene after the attack.Anton Skyba/The Globe and Mail

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was appalled by the missile strike and condemns any attacks against civilians or civilian infrastructure, a spokesperson said.

Late into the afternoon, rescue workers shovelled debris from the wreckage of the buildings. Cars that had caught fire were blackened and scorched. Residents spent the day sweeping glass from their shattered windows.

Back in Mr. Shvets’s apartment, his son’s half-eaten breakfast was on the table where he sat just hours earlier. Mr. Shvets, who had white bandages wrapped around his arms, said it is a miracle he only has minor cuts.

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In Mr. Shvets’s apartment, his son’s half-eaten breakfast sits on the table where he left it just hours earlier when a rocket hit.Anton Skyba/The Globe and Mail

He said that after the first blast, while he, his wife and their son were huddled away from the window, a shock wave from the second rocket blew them toward the door.

“Nothing changed with my thoughts, because I hated Russians before. Their people have no mercy and no soul. I wish them to burn in hell for such actions because three children have died,” he said, adding that he urges Canada to take part in the fight against Russia.

As people carried his belongings out of his home, he said he doesn’t know what will happen to his place or if it’s possible to stay.

In the hall, Oleksandr Navrotski gestured toward his apartment, up the stairs. He pointed to where his 15-year-old son was resting in his room, texting on his phone at the time of the attack. He said the soft bed frame protected him, and had he been sitting at his computer where he usually sits in the morning, he wouldn’t have survived.

He said that Russian propaganda claims that nationalists were hiding there is a stupid excuse, saying many in the region speak Russian and it’s not a problem.

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Oleksandr Navrotski shows the bed where his son was during the rocket attack. He says the soft bed frame protected him.Anton Skyba/The Globe and Mail

Ukraine’s state emergency service posted a photograph on its Telegram channel of a toy kitten, a toy dog and flowers in the grass. “The little girl Lisa, killed by the Russians today, has become a ray of sunshine,” it said, above a second image of a setting sun over ruined roofs. “Forgive us, little one, that we did not save you.”

Residents in apartments surrounding the site of the attack were left with their homes in ruins, glass everywhere and, in some cases, furniture destroyed and wooden window frames blown entirely from where they were previously secured.

Oleksandr Snigur, 66, was standing in the doorway of his apartment, the outer wooden door completely detached and ripped apart.

He said he was at work and heard the explosion. While he was trying to find out what happened, his neighbours called him to say it was at their place. “There’s no doors and no windows,” his neighbour told him.

“I felt lost when I saw what happened,” he said. Mr. Snigur had lived in the apartment for 60 years, from the moment his family received it during the Soviet era. He was six years old and hasn’t left. His wife died two years ago, he said, so he’s been there alone.

“I don’t have words,” he said, saying he was emotional at the sight of the two community buildings. But seeing his own place did stir up motivation to clean up and get it done.

“For all my life, I was thinking Russians are reasonable and they are telling that we are brothers, like brother nations they won’t attack … but we made a mistake because we trusted these words,” he said. “They have also mistaken by attacking us. Because we will not give up the war.”

In his kitchen, his sister swept up the glass that blew in from the window. He said his boss offered to come by with plastic later to cover them. “And my second door is okay, so I will lock that and we will survive, somehow.”

With reports from Reuters

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