A Russian rocket has hit a village cafe and store in eastern Ukraine and killed at least 51 civilians in one of the deadliest attacks in months, according to President Volodymyr Zelensky.
The attack came as he attended a summit of about 50 European leaders in Spain to drum up support from Ukraine’s allies.
The president denounced the attack in the Kharkiv village of Hroza as a “demonstrably brutal Russian crime” and “a completely deliberate act of terrorism”.
About 60 people were in the cafe attending a wake after a funeral, said internal affairs minister Ihor Klymenko.
According to preliminary information from Kyiv, the village was struck by an Iskander missile.
Ukrainian prosecutors released pictures showing bloodied bodies and emergency workers combing through smouldering debris.
Hroza and other parts of the eastern Kharkiv region were seized by Russia early in the war and recaptured by Ukraine in September 2022. The village is 19 miles west of Kupiansk, where Mr Zelensky had visited on Tuesday to meet troops and inspect equipment supplied by the West.
“Russia needs this and similar terrorist attacks for only one thing: to make its genocidal aggression the new norm for the whole world,” he said.
“Now we are talking with European leaders, in particular, about strengthening our air defence, strengthening our soldiers, giving our country protection from terror. And we will respond to the terrorists.
“The key for us, especially before winter, is to strengthen air defence, and there is already a basis for new agreements with partners.”
Last winter, Russia targeted Ukraine’s energy system and other vital infrastructure in a steady barrage of missile and drone attacks, triggering continuous power outages across the country.
Ukraine’s power system has shown a high degree of resilience and flexibility, helping alleviate the damage, but there have been concerns that Moscow will again ramp up its strikes on power facilities as winter draws nearer.
The UK Foreign Office cited intelligence suggesting that Russia may lay sea mines in the approach to Ukrainian ports to target civilian shipping and blame it on Ukraine.
“Russia almost certainly wants to avoid openly sinking civilian ships, instead falsely laying blame on Ukraine for any attacks against civilian vessels in the Black Sea,” it said, adding that the UK was working with Ukraine to help improve the safety of shipping.
Speaking in Granada, Mr Zelensky emphasised the need to preserve European unity in the face of Russian disinformation and to remain strong amid what a “political storm” in the US.
Asked if he was worried that support for Ukraine could falter in US Congress, the Ukrainian president stressed that his visit to Washington last month made him confident of strong backing by the Biden administration and Congress.