A Russian missile strike on Ukraine’s northern city of Chernihiv killed at least five people and wounded dozens on Saturday, authorities said, hours after President Vladimir Putin met Moscow’s top army commanders.
Chernihiv, some 150 kilometres (90 miles) north of Kyiv towards Belarus, has been largely spared from major attacks since the first months of Russia’s invasion as fierce fighting rages in the east and south.
The Russian army marched through the city when it invaded Ukraine through Belarus in February 2022, before being repelled by Kyiv’s forces.
The attack hit after Putin met top Russian generals in a rare trip to the operational hub Rostov-on-Don in southern Russia and as his Ukrainian nemesis, Volodymyr Zelensky, visited Sweden.
“Five people died,” Ukrainian Interior Minister Igor Klymenko said about the Chernihiv attack on Telegram. “Thirty-seven people were wounded, including 11 children.”
Zelensky said the attack hit “in the centre of the city” in a square that houses a “polytechnic university, a theatre”.
“An ordinary Saturday, which Russia turned into a day of pain and loss,” the Ukrainian leader said after he had arrived in Sweden.
He posted a video from the scene that showed debris around a large Soviet-era building, with parked cars around it that were partially destroyed, with smashed roofs and windows blown out.
AFP reporters saw fire trucks outside the Taras Shevchenko Drama Theatre and Music Academy, which suffered some damage.
Some nearby buildings also suffered minor damaged.
– Putin meets military top brass –
Hours earlier, the Kremlin said Putin had travelled to the southern city of Rostov-on-Don to meet his top generals in a rare trip close to fighting zones.
Putin’s meeting with Moscow’s top military brass came after Kyiv claimed some success on the battlefield this week and a day after the US approved the transfer of Dutch and Danish F-16 warplanes to Kyiv.
Moscow gave no details of when the meeting took place, but footage released by state media indicated it was at night.
“Vladimir Putin held a meeting at the headquarters of the special military operation group in Rostov-on-Don,” the Kremlin said in a statement.
“The head of state listened to briefings by the Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov, commanders of directions and other senior officers of the group.”
A video published by the RIA Novosti news agency showed Putin, wearing a suit, stepping out of a jeep in the dark and being greeted with a handshake by Gerasimov, in military attire.
Gerasimov is seen leading Putin down a corridor decorated with portraits of Russian military men and of the president chairing a meeting with army chiefs.
Rostov-on-Don was also the scene of a dramatic armed mutiny by Wagner mercenaries in June, which saw them briefly take over the army HQ in Rostov, before halting their rebellion.
Gerasimov, who Wagner wanted to unseat, has rarely been seen in public since.
– Drone attacks –
As Putin met with his generals, Kyiv said it had shot down more than a dozen Russian drones in an overnight attack.
And the Russian army said it had thwarted a Ukrainian attack on Crimea and a drone attack on a military airfield in the northwestern Novgorod region.
Both sides have reported regular drone incursions as Ukraine presses a counteroffensive to reclaim Russian-held territory.
Kyiv’s air force said it had shot down 15 Russian drones.
Russian forces “attacked from the north with ‘Shahed-136/131’ attack UAVs. A total of 17 attack drones were launched from the Kursk region,” the air force said on Telegram.
It added that air defences were activated in “northern and central, as well as in the western regions”.
The Russian army said it had repelled a Ukrainian attack on Crimea, a day after Russian forces destroyed Ukrainian drones targeting Moscow and its Black Sea Fleet.
“On the night of August 19, the Kyiv regime attempted a terrorist attack with an anti-aircraft missile of the S-200 air defence system turned into a strike version on the territory of Crimea,” the Russian army said in a statement.
On the battlefield, the Russian army said it had repelled some Ukrainian troops that tried to cross the Dnipro River into Russian-occupied territory in southern Ukraine, a day after admitting sabotage groups were operating in the area.