KYIV, Ukraine -- Russia stepped up its missile and drone attacks against Ukraine on Wednesday, killing students and other civilians, in a violent follow-up to dueling high-level diplomatic missions after 13 months of war.
"Russia is shelling the city with bestial savagery," President Volodymyr Zelenskyy wrote in a Telegram post accompanying video showing what he said was a Russian missile striking a nine-story apartment building on a busy road in the southeastern city of Zaporizhzhia. "Residential areas where ordinary people and children live are being fired at."
At least one person was killed in the attack shown in the Zaporizhzhia video, apparently recorded by closed circuit TV cameras. Elsewhere, Moscow's forces launched exploding drones before dawn, killing at least eight people in or near a student dormitory near Kyiv.
Ukrainian media showed several angles of the missile raining down on an apartment building across the street from a shopping mall in Zaporizhzhia, producing a huge plume of gray and black smoke, with bits of concrete flying into the air as cars whizzed by. Videos showed the violent outcome of the attack: charred apartments, flames and smoke billowing out of several floors of the buildings, and piles of broken concrete and shards of glass on the ground. Two children were among the wounded, said Zaporizhzhia City Council Secretary Anatolii Kurtiev, adding that 25 people needed hospital treatment, with three in critical condition.
Zaporizhzhia city is about 60 miles from the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, Europe's largest which has come under threat during the war and has been shut down for months. The U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency reported the plant had suffered another loss of a backup external power source. Its six reactors still need power to cool nuclear fuel, and were relying on only a primary source Wednesday, the agency said.
Russia has denied targeting residential areas even though artillery and rocket strikes hit apartment buildings and civilian infrastructure daily. Russian officials have blamed Ukrainian air defenses for some of the deadliest strikes on apartments, saying the deployment of air defense systems in residential areas puts civilians at risk. Russia sometimes also claims Ukraine is hiding military equipment and personnel in civilian buildings.
The war, which Russia started Feb. 24, 2022, has evolved in two main directions: a front line mainly in eastern Ukraine, centered around the city of Bakhmut, and periodic Russian missile and drone strikes nationwide. In addition, periodic -- although unconfirmed -- Ukrainian sabotage attacks have been launched across the border into Russia. The front-line fighting largely stalemated over the winter, with expectations of major offensives by both sides expected in more favorable spring weather.
Earlier Wednesday, a drone attack damaged a high school and two dormitories in the city of Rzhyshchiv, south of the Ukrainian capital, officials said. It wasn't clear how many people were in the dormitories at the time. The body of a 40-year-old man was among those pulled from the rubble on one floor, according to regional police chief Andrii Nebytov, adding that more than 20 people were hospitalized. Video showed what appeared to be a bloodied sneaker and a green ball on the ground near a damaged building, whose top floor was ripped off at a corner.
The attacks occurred as dueling diplomatic missions were winding down. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida left Kyiv after meeting Zelenskyy to support Ukraine. Chinese leader Xi Jinping left Moscow after meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin about Beijing's peace proposal, which the West has rejected as a nonstarter. No progress toward peace was reported.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin reiterated China's claims that it remains neutral in the conflict and said it had "no selfish motives on the Ukraine issue, has not stood idly by ... or taken the opportunity to profit itself."
"What China has done boils down to one word, that is, to promote peace talks," Wang said at a daily briefing.
Wang also accused the U.S. of lacking impartiality and of "fanning the flames" of the conflict by providing defensive weapons to Ukraine to Washington's own benefit.
The U.S., NATO and partner nations have openly supported Kyiv since the start of the conflict, and China is widely seen as providing economic backing for Putin's regime while avoiding being directly involved.
"President Xi Jinping's visit to Russia is a journey of friendship, cooperation and peace, which has aroused positive responses in the international community," Wang said.
China would "continue to play a constructive role in promoting a political settlement of the Ukrainian issue," Wang said, an apparent reference to a 12-point peace proposal put forward by Beijing that calls for a cease-fire and negotiations.
The document has already been dismissed by the West, largely because China -- which has said it has a "no-limits" relationship with Moscow -- is not seen as an impartial broker and the proposal says nothing about a Russian withdrawal from Ukrainian territory it has occupied by force.
Xi's visit was heavily promoted by both China and Russia but was overshadowed by a visit to Kyiv by Kishida of Japan, a close U.S. ally and a key Chinese rival in east Asia.
The U.S. and others have continued to express concerns that China may provide military equipment to supplement its purchases of Russian energy resources and provision of computer chips to keep the Russian economy afloat.
The New York Times on Tuesday said Russia had purchased more than $12 million in drones and drone parts from China in the year since the invasion began, citing official Russian customs data provided from a source it did not identify.
The paper said it was difficult to tell whether the drones contain American technologies. It said the shipments included products from DJI, which is among the world's leading makers of commercial drones, as well as smaller companies, and were often channeled through a web of brokers and smaller export firms.
U.S. National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson noted the violent turn of events.
"Just one day after Russia called for peace, Russia is attacking Ukrainian homes as part of its brutal war," she said in Washington. "What Russia is doing is horrific --- and we are committed to continuing to help Ukraine defend itself against this Russian aggression."
The drone barrage and other Russian attacks on civilian infrastructure also drew a scathing response from Zelenskyy.
"Over 20 Iranian murderous drones, plus missiles, numerous shelling occasions, and that's just in one last night of Russian terror," he tweeted in English. "Every time someone tries to hear the word 'peace' in Moscow, another order is given there for such criminal strikes."
Zaporizhzhia's regional administration said two missiles struck the apartment block, saying Russia's goal is "to scare the civilian population of the city of thousands."
"It's hell in Zaporizhzhia," Ukrainian lawmaker Oleksiy Goncharenko wrote on Telegram, adding: "There aren't any military facilities nearby."
Vladimir Rogov, an official with the Moscow-appointed regional administration for the Russian-occupied part of the Zaporizhzhia region, claimed, without offering evidence, that a Ukrainian air defense missile launched to intercept a Russian missile had hit the apartment complex.
In other attacks, Ukrainian air defenses downed 16 of the 21 drones that Russia launched, the Ukraine General Staff said. Eight were shot down near the capital, according to the city's military administration. Other drones struck west-central Khmelnytskyi province.
Also Wednesday, Zelenskyy made another in a series of battlefield visits, meeting with soldiers and officers in the eastern Donetsk region, stopping by a hospital to see wounded troops and giving state awards to the defenders of Bakhmut, a devastated city that has become a symbol of Ukraine's dogged resistance under a threat of Russian encirclement and for months has been the scene of the war's bloodiest fighting and longest battle. Zelenskyy's last known visit to the Bakhmut area was in December. On Wednesday, the Ukrainian president also visited Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, which his forces recaptured from the Russians last September.
BLINKEN AT CONGRESS
European countries should detain Putin and turn him over to the International Criminal Court if the Russian president visits their countries, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told lawmakers Wednesday.
Blinken's remarks, made in response to a line of questioning, follow the court's decision last week to issue an arrest warrant for Putin that accuses him of being personally responsible for the abductions of children from Ukraine -- the first time the global court has issued a warrant against a leader of one of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.
"Would you encourage our European allies to turn him over?" Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina asked Blinken during a budget hearing.
"Anyone who is a party to the court and has obligations should fulfill their obligations," Blinken said.
Putin is unlikely to visit hostile European countries any time soon, especially in light of the ICC arrest warrant -- a decision that received both praise for standing up against Putin and criticism for potentially closing diplomatic pathways for reaching a political resolution that ends the fighting.
Information for this article was contributed by Hanna Arhirova, Elise Morton, Andrew Katell and staff writers of The Associated Press and by John Judson and Missy Ryan of The Washington Post.
Gallery: Images from Ukraine and Russia, month 13