A Ukrainian withdrawal from a key city allows Russia to refocus

debt…Vasily Maximov/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Explosions ripped through the center of a Russian city in northern Ukraine early Sunday, killing four people, officials said, in the worst episode to hit civilians in Russia since the war began.

Russia’s Defense Ministry blamed Ukraine for the bombing in the city of Belgorod. While Ukraine occasionally strikes fuel and military targets along its border, this is the first time Russia has accused Ukraine of a deadly attack targeting a major urban center on its border.

Russian officials said Ukraine fired Soviet-era missiles at Belgorod, all of which were shot down by Russian air defense systems. One fell to the ground in central Belgorod and caused havoc, they said.

There was no immediate comment from the Ukrainian military, but Anton Zerashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s interior ministry, said he believed Russia was responsible for the strike, saying it was used for propaganda. Ukraine and its international allies have repeatedly condemned Russia for attacking civilian infrastructure on a large scale since it invaded its neighbor in February.

Vyacheslav Klatkov, governor of the Belgorod region, said four people were killed, including three Ukrainians; Russian state media said the three were a refugee family from the nearby Kharkiv region. Mr.

“What’s happening now is a very difficult situation,” Mr. T-shirt-and-jeans-clad Mr. Klatkov said in a video released by Russian media. “I can tell you it won’t happen again—I can’t, you know this.”

Some Russian politicians called for immediate retaliation against Ukraine on Sunday, but the Kremlin has previously sought to play down any Ukrainian attacks against Russian territory – officials say they are apparently worried about giving the impression that Russian citizens are at risk in the war. Special Military Operations.”

That attitude appeared to have changed on Sunday morning, when the Russian Defense Ministry released a statement saying Ukraine had targeted residential areas in the cities of Belgorod and Kursk in a “deliberate strike” using Tu-143 drones and Tochka-U missiles.

Russian air-defense systems shot down all of Ukraine’s missiles, but fragments of one fell on a house in Belgorod, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman General Igor Konashenkov said in a statement.

“I want to emphasize that this missile attack was deliberately planned and carried out against the civilians of Russian cities,” General Konashenkov said.

A few hours later, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria V. Zakharova said, without providing evidence, that the West had encouraged Kai to attack Russian cities “to push us to carry out retaliatory attacks.”

“We have so far refrained from taking such measures, but we will follow developments very closely,” he said in a statement. “Those who act like this should know that if the provocations continue, they need to be careful.”

Images posted on Russian news agencies and social media showed smoke billowing from parts of the city, with at least one house on fire.

While Belgorod residents are not surprised by the occasional surge of air-defense systems, Sunday was different, local blogger Vladimir Kornev said in a phone interview.

“What is unique today is that it has touched the core of the city and it has affected daily life to a great extent,” said Mr. Kornev said.

debt…Pavel Kolyadin/Belpressa, via Reuters

Ukrainian officials have been tight-lipped about attacks on Russian soil. US and British officials have also said Ukraine has the right to retaliate against military targets in Russia. The US has called on Ukraine’s military not to use newly supplied long-range US artillery for cross-border attacks.

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