Russian forces continued to bombard Ukrainian cities, launching at least four missile strikes on the second largest city of Kharkiv as Ukraine fought back by firing artillery inside Russia and hitting an ammunition depot.
Multiple explosions were reported Friday at the facility in the Belgorod region of Russia. The attack was announced by the regional governor on the social media site Telegram. Ukrainian officials have made no claims of responsibility for the attack.
The fighting in Ukraine comes as Russian President Vladimir Putin defended recent moves to escalate the war by deploying more troops in the country.
Putin said Friday there was no need for massive new strikes on Ukraine and that Russia was not looking to destroy the country. At the same time, the Russian leader maintained he had “no regrets” about the war in Ukraine and the recent mobilization of 222,000 Russians reservists to fight in the conflict.
At a news conference Friday in Astana, Kazakhstan, Putin said 16,000 of the new recruits already have been deployed “in units involved in fulfilling combat tasks.”
Russian media reported at least seven deaths among the recently drafted recruits. The casualties come as Russia’s defense ministry faces criticism from prominent pro-war Russian military analysts for deploying untrained recruits into combat.
Despite the rising death toll, Putin told reporters his actions to launch a military offensive in Ukraine was “timely and right.”
Hours before Putin spoke, Russian missiles and drones targeted more Ukrainian cities and towns for a fourth consecutive day. At least five people in the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv were killed, officials said.
Meanwhile, Ukraine's military said it had recaptured more than 600 settlements from Russian forces over the past month, according to the country's Ministry for Reintegration of the Temporarily Occupied Territories, as Russian forces continued to strike dozens of Ukraine’s cities, killing a number of civilians.
Some 502 settlements have been liberated in the northeast Kharkiv region, where Ukrainian forces last month advanced deep into Russian lines and 75 localities were recaptured in the highly strategic Kherson region, the ministry said late Thursday.
The ministry said 43 settlements were liberated in the Donetsk region and seven in the Luhansk region.
"The area of liberated Ukrainian territories has increased significantly," the ministry said in a statement on its website. The report could not be independently verified.
Civilians in the Russia-occupied Kherson region of Ukraine are expected to start evacuating Friday for Russia. Vladimir Saldo, the region’s Russian-appointed leader, asked Russia for evacuation assistance. The move is an indication that Ukraine’s forces are advancing closer to the illegally annexed region. The first evacuees are expected to arrive in eastern Russia Friday.
The announcement comes as the country marks Defenders Day to celebrate the nation’s fighters. Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy expressed his gratitude “to everyone who is fighting for it now,” in a statement released Friday.
In other developments, the United States warned it can impose sanctions on people, countries and companies that provide ammunition to Russia or support its military-industrial complex, as Washington seeks to increase pressure on Moscow over the war in Ukraine.
Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo, at a gathering of officials from 32 countries to discuss sanctions on Russia, said the department will issue guidance Friday making clear that Washington is willing and able to impose such a crackdown.
In addition, the Biden administration's is set to unveil a new security assistance package for Ukraine. The military aid is expected to include munitions and vehicles but not significant new capabilities or counter-air defenses, according to two U.S. officials briefed on the $725 million package.
Information from RFE/RL, Reuters and The Associated Press was used in this report.