A fire is seen at a residential building in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Wednesday following a Russian rocket attack, according to Ukrainian officials. Photo by Ukraine State Emergency Service/EPA-EFE
Aug. 19 (UPI) -- At least 17 people were killed and dozens were injured Friday in two Russian attacks on Ukraine's second largest city -- where Ukrainian fighters have been repelling invading forces for months.
The attacks targeted positions in Kharkiv in Ukraine´s northeast and followed weeks of sustained Russian shelling in the area.
Russia has relentlessly tried to capture Kharkiv since the war began in February as a major prize, but Ukrainian forces have successfully held onto the city -- mounting an aggressive counteroffensive in May that pushed Russian forces out of the region.
Russian officials have said it´s renewed attention on Kharkiv recently and launched repeated rocket attacks and mortar fire. Friday's attack impacted civilian areas in Kharkiv, city officials said.
"[Thursday] night was one of the most tragic for Kharkiv region during the entire war," Regional Military Administration Oleh Synehubov said according to Interfax Ukraine.
"During the night, the Russians launched massive missile strikes on Kharkiv. Peaceful sleeping areas with civilians were again under attack by Russian terrorists."
Ukrainian officials have condemned Russia targeting civilians since the fighting began -- charges that Moscow has denied.
Britain´s defense ministry said on Friday that Kharkiv remains a high-target area for Russia mostly because of its close proximity to the Ukraine-Russia border.
"Although the front line in this sector has moved little since May, Ukraine's second city has been one of the most consistently shelled since the start of the invasion, when Russian forces probably aimed to reach the outskirts within 24 hours," the British ministry said in a tweet.
"Kharkiv has suffered because it remains within range of most types of Russian artillery. Multiple rocket launchers and generally inaccurate area weapons have caused devastation across large parts of the city."
Meanwhile, farther south, international leaders are repeating concerns around the safety and security of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant due to fighting nearby. Many of the leaders worry about the potentially catastrophic consequences if the plant is hit by the shelling.
Ukraine officials say that Russia has used the plant as a shield to launch attacks, knowing that forces loyal to Kyiv won´t return fire. Nuclear experts have said that an accident at the nuclear plant, which is Europe´s largest, would impact both countries as well as nearby Poland, Germany and Slovenia.
Russia is also seeing increased pushback in troop advances. Authorities on Friday evacuated two Russian villages near Ukraine after a fire broke out at a munitions depot near Belgorod province.
At least four explosions near the Belbek airbase, north of Sevastopol in Russian-occupied Crimea, were reported.