Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Sunday that Russia's war, now in its 16th month, has killed at least 500 Ukrainian children.
Zelenskyy provided the number hours after rescue workers found the body of a 2-year-old girl who died in one of the latest Russian strikes.
The president said in a statement that “Russian weapons and hatred, which continue to take and destroy the lives of Ukrainian children every day," killed the hundreds who had perished since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine started on Feb. 24, 2022.
“Many of them could have become famous scholars, artists, sports champions, contributing to Ukraine’s history,” he said.
Zelenskyy said it was impossible to establish the exact number of children who were casualties due to the ongoing hostilities and because some areas are under Russian occupation.
“We must hold out and win this war!” the Ukrainian president said. “All of Ukraine, all our people, all our children, must be free from the Russian terror!”
Rescuers found the 2-year-old's body early Sunday while combing through the rubble of an apartment building in the suburbs of the central city of Dnipro.
The regional governor, Serhiy Lysak, said five children were among 22 people injured by Saturday's attack, which damaged two residential buildings.
The Russians launched more strikes with drones and cruise missiles Sunday, targeting multiple areas of the country, including the capital, Kyiv.
The Ukrainian air force said the country's air defenses downed three of the five Shahed self-exploding drones and four of the six cruise missiles fired.
Ukrainian air force spokesman Yurii Ihnat said two missiles struck a military air base in Kropyvnytskyi, a city in central Ukraine's Kyrovohrad province. He did not report what damage they caused.
Russia's Defense Ministry said the military destroyed Ukrainian warplanes and ammunition depots in strikes on Ukrainian airfields, but didn't give further specifics.
The Russian military has reported a series of strikes in recent days on Ukrainian air defense batteries, air bases and troops depots. The long-range strikes come as Ukraine prepares for a long-expected counteroffensive in which it hopes to reclaim more ground.
In what was seen as part of operations to facilitate the planned counterattack, Ukrainian forces maintained pressure on Russian forces in the eastern city of Bakhmut, which Moscow claimed control of last month after the war's longest and bloodiest battle.
Elsewhere, groups of Russians fighting alongside Ukrainian forces declared that they launched new attacks in recent days on Russia's Belgorod region, which borders Ukraine. One of the groups, the Russian Volunteer Corps, released a video Sunday showing a purported raid on the region.
The Associated Press could not independently verify the video's authenticity.
Previous attacks in Belgorod, which prompted Russian authorities to evacuate thousands of local residents, were seen by some observers as part of Ukraine's efforts to distract Moscow and to stretch its forces ahead of the planned counteroffensive.
Belgorod Gov. Vyacheslav Gladkov reported more Ukrainian shelling of the border town of Shebekino that sparked several fires on Sunday.
In Crimea, which Russia illegally annexed from Ukraine in 2014, regional leader Sergei Aksenov reported a Ukrainian drone attack on the city of Dzhankoi early Sunday. He claimed that five of the attacking drones were shot down and four others jammed and were forced to land, adding that there were no casualties.
The latest Russian raids on Ukrainian cities sparked new concerns over civilian safety after officials announced that nearly a quarter of the 4,800 air raid shelters they inspected were locked or unfit for use.
In Kyiv, 44% of 1,078 shelters were found closed up tight or unusable, Minister for Strategic Industries Oleksandr Kamyshin said Sunday.
The official acknowledgments came after a 33-year-old woman in Kyiv reportedly died while waiting outside a shuttered shelter during a Russian missile barrage on Thursday.
Prosecutors in the capital said four people were detained as part of a criminal probe into the woman's death as she and others waited to enter a locked shelter. A security guard who allegedly failed to unlock the doors remained in custody. Three others, including a local official, were placed under house arrest.
Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said Saturday that city authorities received “more than a thousand” complaints regarding locked, dilapidated or insufficient air-raid shelters within a day of launching an online feedback service.
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