These strikes at the end of the morning on a region of the country hitherto relatively spared by the war, several hundred kilometers from the front lines, came as a conference was being prepared in The Hague on crimes committed in Ukraine.

In a videoconference intervention during this event organized by the International Criminal Court (ICC), the European Commission and the Netherlands, Volodymyr Zelensky called for the creation of a “special court” responsible for trying “the crimes of the ‘Russian aggression against Ukraine’.

In Vinnytsia, the images published by the Ukrainian Emergency Situations Service showed dozens of charred carcasses and a ten-storey building ravaged by the explosion and the fire that followed.

According to the Ukrainian army, “three missiles” hit the parking lot and this commercial building in the center of the city, housing offices and small businesses. They were fired from submarines in the Black Sea, Ukrainian Air Force spokesman Yuri Ignat said.

“Every day Russia kills civilians, kills Ukrainian children, fires missiles at civilian targets where there is nothing military. What is this, if not an open act terrorist?” Volodymyr Zelensky said immediately after the strikes.

In front of the conference in The Hague, in which the ministers of Justice and Foreign Affairs of the EU countries took part, he specified that “at this minute, 20 people have died, including three children. And many, many are wounded”.

The head of Ukrainian diplomacy, Dmytro Kouleba, present in The Hague, denounced a new “Russian war crime”.

The editor-in-chief of the state media group Russia Segodnya, Margarita Simonian, claimed on Telegram that the Russian army told her that they had targeted “the House of Officers, where nationalists had been deployed”.

– Strikes on the south –

For several weeks, Russian strikes away from the front lines had been relatively rare.

But the war is now raging around cities like the strategic port of Mykolaiv (south), near the Black Sea, which was hit early Thursday morning by a “massive missile strike” for the second consecutive day.

“Two schools, transport infrastructure and a hotel were damaged,” the presidency said in its daily morning briefing.

Footage released by local authorities shows the remains of a building destroyed by bombardment, with municipal workers picking up debris strewn from the attack.

Ukraine, for its part, launched a counter-offensive several weeks ago to retake Kherson, the only regional capital captured by Moscow since February 24. While the front line remains relatively stable, these attacks are increasingly powerful, with new US and European rocket systems targeting arms depots.

– “Total victory” –

The main battles, however, remain concentrated in eastern Ukraine and the Donbass, an industrial and mining basin that Moscow has promised to completely conquer.

According to the governor of the Lugansk region, Sergiï Gaïdaï, “massive artillery and mortar attacks continue (and) the Russians are trying to break through towards Siversk and open the way towards Bakhmout”, where a civilian died in bombings in the night from Wednesday to Thursday.

The pro-Russian separatists supported by Moscow claim for their part to be close to winning a new victory there, a few days after taking several important cities.

“Siversk is under our operational control, which means that the enemy can be hit by our fire in the whole area,” said a separatist official, Daniïl Bezsonov, quoted by the Russian news agency TASS.

AFP was unable to independently confirm this information.

A little further north, in the region of Izioum, “we dig when it’s calm, we hide when it’s shooting”, confided to AFP a Ukrainian soldier in labyrinthine trenches several tens of meters long built by the Ukrainian army, to the sound of artillery fire.

One of the officers, however, declared that “the situation is under control”, affirming that the Russian army was no longer advancing in this area and that the objective for Ukraine was now “total victory”.

– Hope on cereals –

On Wednesday, during a meeting of military experts in Istanbul, Russia and Ukraine also made progress on the thorny issue of blocking grain exports from Ukrainian ports.

“Really substantial progress” has been made, commented UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who said he hoped that a “formal agreement” could be concluded soon and spoke of “a ray of hope to alleviate the suffering humanity and world hunger”.

The negotiations launched more than two months ago aim to export through the Black Sea some 20 million tonnes of grain blocked in Ukrainian silos, particularly in Odessa, while facilitating Russian exports of grain and fertilizers.

Ukraine is one of the world’s leading exporters of wheat and other cereals and time is running out as rising global food prices pose the risk of famine, particularly in Africa.

The war in Ukraine is the “greatest challenge” to the global economy, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said Thursday ahead of a G20 meeting in Indonesia.

President Emmanuel Macron warned him that the conflict in Ukraine would “last” and that the French should prepare to do without Russian gas, which Moscow uses as a “weapon of war”.