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Russian shelling of residential area in Kramatorsk, Ukraine, kills 1

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A man looks on at a destroyed car following the shelling of a residential area in Kramatorsk city of Donetsk region, Ukraine, on Thursday. Photo by George Ivanchenko/EPA-EFE
A man looks on at a destroyed car following the shelling of a residential area in Kramatorsk city of Donetsk region, Ukraine, on Thursday. Photo by George Ivanchenko/EPA-EFE

July 7 (UPI) -- Russian shelling targeted a residential area in Kramatorsk, Ukraine, on Thursday, killing one civilian and injuring several others, local officials said.

The attack came as Russian forces sought to expand their grip over the battle-scarred country after 19 weeks of fighting.

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Officials said a rocket hit just outside apartment complexes and a hotel on a central residential area. The blast left a crater in a courtyard, Euro News reported.

A witness and former resident of the area identified only as Anastasia told The New York Times a man who was sitting on a bench outside the buildings was killed. She said she had just left the courtyard area after returning for a visit.

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"He was here, outside," she said. "He had no chance.

Kramatorsk is located just south of Sloviansk, where officials have ordered evacuations as Russian forces take over more area in the Donetsk oblast.

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The city was the site of a missile strike in April that hit a crowded train station, killing at least 50 people. Most of the city's civilians have since evacuated.

A grain field is seen near Lviv, Ukraine, on May 9. Ukraine is a significant grain producer and the crop has played a strategic role in Russia's war on the country. File Photo by Mykola Tys/EPA-EFE

More evacuations occurred on Thursday in Sloviansk as Russian forces close in on the area. Officials on Wednesday urged more than 350,000 civilians in the area to leave, anticipating a Russian military offensive after Moscow captured other positions in the region.

Sloviansk Mayor Vadym Lyakh said Thursday about 23,000 residents were left in the city of 110,000. He added that Russian fighters had not fully encroached on the city.

The British Defense Ministry, which has been monitoring the war since it began on Feb. 24, said Russian forces have failed to make any further significant gains in Donetsk -- which is one half of the Donbas region, Russia's primary goal since April. The ministry said it expects renewed Russian efforts, however, to expand control in the region.

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The other half of the Donbas -- the Luhansk region -- has seen significant Russian gains in recent days.

"Heavy shelling continued along the Donetsk front line, but with few advances being made by Russia," the ministry tweeted. "Russian units involved in last week's gains are now likely reconstituting."

Luhansk Gov. Serhiy Haidai accused Russia of adopting a "scorched earth" policy and "burning down and destroying everything on their way."

Ukrainian officials said Russian missile strikes hit grain silos in the Odessa region in south Ukraine. The silos contained almost 40 tons of grain, officials said.

Ukrainian grain has played a role in Russia's strategy since the fighting began at the end of February. Ukrainian officials and Western allies have said Moscow is employing various tactics to steal grain from the country.

Meanwhile, the Russian military said Thursday that a missile strike killed a group of Ukrainian troops who were raising a flag on Snake Island, which Ukraine had recently retaken.

"At dawn, during an aerial overflight and reconnaissance of [Snake] island, it was attacked by two air-launched missiles. The dock was significantly damaged," Ukrainian military officials said, according to CNN.

Ukrainian officials said Russia has increased shelling in the southern part of the country, particularly along the border of the Mykolaiv and Kherson regions.

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The officials said Russia has targeted the Bereznehuvate community and the coastal communities of Ochakiv and Kutsurub -- and that the rocket strikes have ignited fires in several areas and burned crops. Russian artillery also ignited fires in grain fields in Pervomaisk.

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