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Russia pounds major Ukrainian city after expanding war aims

Sabina, center, cries next to her dead husband Artem Pogorelets after a Russian shelling at Barabashovo market in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Thursday. (AP photo)

KHARKIV, Ukraine — Russian shelling pounded a densely populated area in Ukraine’s second-largest city Thursday, killing at least three people and injuring at least 23 others with a barrage that struck a mosque, a medical facility and a shopping area, according to officials and witnesses.

Police in the northeast city of Kharkiv said cluster bombs hit Barabashovo Market, where Associated Press journalists saw a woman crying over her dead husband’s body. Local officials said the shelling also struck a bus stop, a gym and a residential building.

The bombardment came after Russia on Wednesday reiterated its plans to seize territories beyond eastern Ukraine, where the Russian military has spent months trying to conquer the Donbas region, which is south of Kharkiv. It also followed Ukrainian attacks this week on a bridge the Russians have used to supply their forces in occupied areas near Ukraine’s southern Black Sea coast.

Kharkiv Mayor Ihor Terekhov said the attacks early Thursday targeted one of the most crowded areas of the city, which had a prewar population of about 1.4 million.

“The Russian army is randomly shelling Kharkiv, peaceful residential areas. Civilians are being killed,” Terekhov said.

At the market, Sabina Pogorelets’ desperate screams pierced the air as she begged Ukrainian police to let her embrace her husband, Adam, a vendor whose body was lying partly covered with cloth next to a small stall. A bloody wound could be seen on his head as policemen gently pulled his wife away so medical workers could take away his body.

“Please! I need to hold his hand!” Pogorelets cried.

Nearby, a man hugged his small daughter as he and other visitors stood in shock. Emergency teams treated at least two of the wounded in nearby ambulances.

“People started working little by little, they came out to sell things, and residents came here to buy things,” said Volodymyr Tymoshko, head of the National Police in the Kharkiv region. “And exactly this place was hit by Uragan rockets with cluster bombs to maximize the damage to people.”

The cluster bombs claim could not be independently confirmed. AP journalists at the scene saw burned-out cars and a bus pierced by shrapnel.

The Kharkiv regional governor, Oleh Syniehubov, said four people were in grave condition and a child was among those wounded in the shelling. Russian forces also shelled wheat fields, setting them on fire, he said.

Elsewhere, Russian forces shelled the southern city of Mykolaiv overnight as well as the eastern cities of Kramatorsk and Kostiantynivka, where two schools were destroyed, Ukrainian officials said. A man’s body was recovered from the rubble of the school in Kramatorsk, and emergency workers say two more people were feared trapped there.

The scattered attacks illustrate broader war aims beyond Russia’s previously declared focus on the Donbas region’s Donetsk and Luhansk provinces, which pro-Moscow separatists have partly controlled since 2014.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told Russian news outlets on Wednesday that Russia plans to retain control over more territory, including the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions in southern Ukraine.

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