Mourners in central Ukraine have buried a four-year-old girl who was killed by a Russian missile strike in the city of Vinnytsia last week, as officials and analysts warned that Moscow’s operational pause of recent days had come to an end, signalling further death and pain to come.
Twenty-three people were killed in the attack, and one person is still missing.
The killing of Liza Dmitrieva, who had Down’s syndrome, as she was pushed in a stroller through a crowded square was reported around the globe, becoming a poignant symbol of the heavy civilian cost of Russia’s invasion.
Wearing a crown of white flowers, Liza was buried on Sunday, as an Orthodox priest burst into tears and told weeping relatives that “evil cannot win”.
Liza’s grandmother, Larysa Dmitrieva, caressed the child as she lay in an open coffin with teddy bears in Vinnytsia’s 18th-century Transfiguration Cathedral. “Look, my flower! Look how many people came to you,” Larysa said.
Liza’s father, Artem Dmytriev, stood silent, tears flowing down his face.
The funeral took place as footage emerged of the girl’s badly wounded mother, Iryna, clearly distraught and speaking to a local television channel after regaining consciousness.
Lying in a hospital bed, with a video of her daughter visible on her phone, she told reporters: “The world doesn’t care. It sees what is happening but it does not protect us. How many times have we asked to close the sky? And the world just looks at how Ukraine is being murdered. Our children are being murdered, our soldiers and our people.
“Protect us from this tyrant,” she said, referring to Vladimir Putin, “because after us he will go further and destroy everything.”
As Liza was buried, Russian rockets and missiles continued to pound Ukrainian towns and cities amid warnings that a renewed Moscow offensive could target the region around north-eastern Kharkiv – from where Russian troops had partially withdrawn – as well as the eastern Donetsk region, which is seen as the Kremlin’s principal focus.
During a visit to the frontlines this weekend, the Russian defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, ordered troops “to further intensify the actions of units in all operational areas”.
The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy urged his people not to fall for Russia’s attempts to scare them with warnings of horrendous missile attacks to come, which he said were aimed at dividing Ukrainian society.
“It’s clear that no Russian missiles or artillery will be able to break our unity or lead us away from our path toward a democratic, independent Ukraine,” he said in his nightly video address to the nation on Saturday. “And it is also clear that Ukrainian unity cannot be broken by lies or intimidation, fakes or conspiracy theories.”
Ukrainian officials have reported an increase in Russian air sorties, including missiles fired from strategic bombers over the Caspian Sea.
“It is not only missile strikes from the air and sea,” said Vadym Skibitskyi, a spokesperson for Ukrainian military intelligence.
“We can see shelling along the entire line of contact, along the entire frontline. There is an active use of tactical aviation and attack helicopters. Clearly, preparations are now under way for the next stage of the offensive.”
The Ukrainian military said Russia appeared to be regrouping units for an offensive toward Sloviansk, a symbolically important city held by Ukraine in the eastern region of Donetsk.
The British defence ministry said on Sunday that Russia was reinforcing its defensive positions across the areas it occupied in southern Ukraine after pressure from Ukrainian forces and pledges from Ukrainian leaders to force out Russia.
Ukraine says at least 40 people have been killed in Russian shelling of urban areas in the last three days, as the war launched by Putin on 24 February intensifies.
Rockets hit the north-eastern town of Chuhuiv in Kharkiv region on Friday night, killing three people including a 70-year-old woman and wounding three others, said the regional governor, Oleh Synehubov.
“Three people lost their livesm – why? What for? Because Putin went mad?” said Raisa Shapoval, 83, a distraught resident sitting in the ruins of her home.
To the south, more than 50 Russian Grad rockets pounded the city of Nikopol on the Dnipro River, killing two people who were found in the rubble, said Governor Valentyn Reznichenko.
On Sunday, more Russian missiles struck industrial facilities in the strategic southern city of Mykolaiv, a key shipbuilding centre in the estuary of the Southern Bug River. There was no immediate information about casualties.
Mykolaiv has faced regular Russian missile strikes in recent weeks as Moscow sought to soften Ukrainian defences, with the aim of cutting off Ukraine’s entire Black Sea coast all the way to the Romanian border.
Early in the campaign, Ukrainian forces fended off Russian attempts to capture Mykolaiv.
The Russian defence ministry spokesperson, Lt Gen Igor Konashenkov, said Russian missiles had destroyed a depot for anti-ship Harpoon missiles delivered to Ukraine by Nato allies, a claim that could not be independently confirmed.
The defence ministry also said its aircraft shot down a Ukrainian MI-17 helicopter near the eastern town of Sloviansk and a SU-25 aircraft in the Kharkiv region.
Moscow, which calls the invasion a “special military operation” to demilitarise its neighbour and root out nationalists, says it uses high-precision weapons to degrade Ukraine’s military infrastructure and protect its own security. Russia has repeatedly denied targeting civilians.
Kyiv and the west say the conflict is an unprovoked attempt to reconquer a country that broke free of Moscow’s rule with the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991.
The Associated Press contributed to this report
July 17, 2022 at 09:28PM Peter Beaumont in Kyiv