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Russia claims strike on Ukraine command post, Kyiv says 7 civilians killed

Missiles damaged flats, a hotel, eateries, shops and administrative buildings in Pokrovsk, eastern Ukraine
— Kyiv (Ukraine) (AFP)

Russia claimed Tuesday it had struck a command post in the eastern Ukraine town of Pokrovsk, as Kyiv said the missile attack had hit civilian targets and killed at least seven people.

Pokrovsk, which had a pre-war population of around 60,000, sits just 40 kilometres (25 miles) from the eastern front line, where Moscow says it is gaining ground and repelling Ukrainian attacks.

Two missiles -- launched 40 minutes apart -- damaged residential buildings, a hotel, сafes, shops and administrative buildings on Monday evening, Pavlo Kyrylenko, head of the Donetsk region's military administration said.

AFP correspondents on the ground saw rescuers evacuating survivors from the rubble of a five-storey block and carrying the wounded into ambulances.

Seven people were killed in the strike and 82 were wounded, including two children, the emergency services said Tuesday afternoon, announcing the rescue operations were over.

Those killed included a high-ranking emergency official of the Donetsk region, said Igor Klymenko, Ukraine's minister of internal affairs.

War in Ukraine

"We are resuming the demolition of rubble," Klymenko said early on Tuesday, after the rescuers "were forced to suspend work for the night due to the high threat of repeated shelling".

The target of the missile attack was a command post of the Ukrainian armed forces, the Russian defence ministry said.

"Near the settlement of Krasnoarmeysk in the Donetsk People's Republic, an advanced command post of the Khortytsya joint group of Ukrainian troops was hit," it said, using the Russian name for Pokrovsk.

- 'Absolute lie' -

The Russian claim was an "absolute lie", Sergiy Cherevaty, the spokesman for Ukraine's operational command "east", a level above the "Khortytsya" group, told AFP.

"This is the third or fourth time they (the Russians) say they destroyed it," Cherevaty said.

Monday's attack was a so-called "double-tap", in which a second strike follows shortly after the first, increasing the chances of casualties among those responding to the initial incident.

Rescuers carry a wounded woman following a Russian missiles strike in Pokrovsk, Donetsk region

Since the beginning of the war, 78 emergency service workers have been killed and 280 injured while they were responding to strikes as a result of repeat Russian attacks, State Emergency Service spokesman Oleksandr Khorunzhyi told a press conference.

President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Monday evening that Moscow had struck an "ordinary" residential building.

He shared a video on social media of civilians helping wounded people and rescuers clearing rubble from a building that had lost its top floor.

A spokesman for the EU chief of diplomacy Josep Borrell criticised the repeat strike on Pokrovsk as "heinous".

"This cynical pattern underscores the criminal nature of Russian aggression," Borrell's spokesman Peter Stano wrote on social media.

The strike damaged the upper floors of a building which housed a street-level pizzeria popular with volunteers, military and journalists, according to an AFP photographer.

In late June, Russia struck the Ria Pizza restaurant in Kramatorsk, killing 13 and wounding dozens more.

- Russian push -

Also on Monday, Russia said it had recently advanced three kilometres towards Kupiansk in northeastern Ukraine, around 150 kilometres north of Pokrovsk and a few dozen kilometres from the Russian border.

Kupiansk and its surroundings in the Kharkiv region were retaken by Ukrainian forces in September, but Moscow has renewed its assault on the area.

A rescuer evacuates a resident from a damaged building after Russian missiles strikes in Pokrovsk

"Over the past three days, the advance of Russian troops... amounted to 11 kilometres along the front and more than three kilometres deep into the enemy's defence," Moscow's defence ministry said.

In mid-July, Ukraine said it was in a "defensive position" in the Kupiansk area, as the Russian army launched an offensive there.

Ukraine began its own long-awaited counter-offensive on the eastern and southern fronts in June but has made only modest advances in the face of stiff resistance from Russian forces.