20 killed, over 70 injured in Russian missile attack on Odesa

Emergency services crews work at the scene of a Russian attack in Odesa, Ukraine, March 15, 2024, in this photo provided by the Ukrainian Emergency Service. [AP Photo]

A Russian missile attack on the southern Ukrainian port city of Odesa on Friday killed 20 people, including rescue workers, according to Ukrainian officials.

More than 70 others were wounded when two ballistic missiles hit a residential area of the city. The second strike came as first responders were rushing toward the scene to treat those hurt by the initial attack at the same location.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called the attack "vile."

"Our Defense Forces will certainly do everything to ensure that the Russian killers feel our fair response," Zelenskyy said on Telegram.

In a post complete with pictures on his Telegram social media account, regional Governor Oleh Kiper said the dead included residents, a medic and a rescue worker. He said seven emergency workers were among the injured.

Kiper said a day of mourning would be held Saturday and called Russia "a terrorist country."

Russia has stepped up its attacks on Odesa since the middle of last year, after the Kremlin ended a deal brokered by the United Nations and Turkey to ship Ukrainian grain from the city through the Black Sea.

Mass evacuation begins

In another development Friday, Ukrainian authorities in the northern Sumy region said they began a mass evacuation of residents living near the border with Russia, according to Reuters.

The military administration of Sumy region posted on Telegram that more than 180 residents near the Velikopysarska community had been evacuated over the past three days.

Sumy officials have been reporting extended periods of intense Russian shelling of the region.

Also Friday, both Ukraine and Russia said they had shot down enemy drones the previous night.

In a social media post, Ukraine's air force said it downed 27 Iranian-style drones. The Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement Friday that five Ukrainian drones and two rockets were intercepted over Russia's Belgorod border region and the Kaluga region, southwest of the Russian capital, Moscow.

On Thursday, Russian drones and missiles hit communications infrastructure in northeastern Ukraine in what appeared to be an effort to block access to information, officials in Kyiv said.

The assault affected television and radio signals in five cities and towns in the Sumy and Kharkiv regions, according to the officials.

The Sumy governor said repairs were  underway to restore television and radio signals and that mobile phone signals had been mostly restored.

The latest fighting came as leaders of Germany, France and Poland met Friday in Berlin to discuss support for Ukraine as it faced dwindling military supplies.

Following the meeting, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said the leaders agreed on the need to procure more weapons for Ukraine.

"We will use windfall profits from Russian assets frozen in Europe to financially support the purchase of weapons for Ukraine," he said at a joint press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk.

"We will do everything as necessary for as long as needed so that Russia cannot win this war," said Macron.

The violence in Ukraine and Russia also came as Russian citizens began three days of voting Friday in national elections in which President Vladimir Putin faces no effective opposition due to the intimidation or jailing of most potential opponents.