A deadly Russian attack on the eastern Ukrainian city of Pokrovsk appeared to be designed to specifically target rescue workers and first responders, Ukrainian officials alleged Tuesday, a potential war crime.
Nine people were killed and 82 were injured in the attack, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his daily address.
The bombardment began at 7:15 p.m. local time on Monday (12.15 p.m. ET), said Serhii Dobriak, a local military leader, when a short-range ballistic missile hit what President Zelensky called an “ordinary residential building” in the eastern Ukrainian city’s center.
First responders arrived on the scene to treat the wounded and dig people out from under the rubble, only to be targeted themselves. The second missile struck a nearby popular hotel, though it had been empty for five weeks, according to Dobriak.
“Half of the building is gone, so it’s good that no one was inside,” he said.
The Russian Ministry of Defense said its forces had hit a command post, but Dobriak said there were no military targets near the city.
“This is just terror,” he told CNN by phone. “This does not intimidate us, but people are dying and suffering.”
Dobriak said that all the victims in the attack were either residents, rescue workers or police, including some officers who had been displaced from their homes in Mariupol after the Kremlin bombarded and eventually seized the coastal city.
Volodymyr, one of the policeman who was wounded, had helped people escape from Mariupol, including filmmakers working on a documentary called “20 days in Mariupol.”
“He drove us out of Mariupol in his car when the green corridor opened, thus saving us and all the materials that formed the basis of the film,” the documentary’s director, Mstyslav Chernov, told CNN.
Zelensky also said there were two children among the injured, both boys, and one of them is in serious condition. “His name is Mykyta, he is only 11 years old, he is a 6th grade pupil,” he said.
The Ukrainian president reiterated that the fact that the second strike on Pokrovsk occurred when the rescue operation was underway indicated it was “a conscious decision of terrorists to cause the most pain and the most damage.”
Among the injured were first responders working for Ukraine’s State Emergency Service and dozens of police officers, according to Pavlo Kyrylenko, the head of Donetsk Regional Military Administration. The deputy head of the Emergency Service’s Donetsk branch, Andrii Omelchenko, was killed, according to Ukraine’s national police.
“All of them were there when they were needed, putting their efforts into rescuing people after the first incoming. They knew there were victims under the rubble – so one had to react, dismantle, get them out and save them. And the enemy struck again,” the national police said in a statement.
Volodymyr, the police officer from Mariupol who had helped the documentary filmmakers, told a Ukrainian public broadcaster from his hospital bed that he arrived to the scene of the attack in between the two strikes.
Volodymyr said he heard “information that there might be a second strike,” but chose to stay because people needed his help. He was helping first responders move the wounded into vehicles when the second missile hit.
“I heard the sound of a missile, tried to fall down, but a fragment hit me in the back and punctured my lung,” Volodymyr said.
The second strike prompted authorities to suspend work to clear the rubble due to fear of another strike, despite the widespread damage.
One video Zelensky posted on social media showed a heavily damaged apartment block at sunset, with residents seemingly in shock trying to assess the damage. Another clip showed emergency officials working through the smoke-filled, hazy ruins after what seemed to be one of the missile attacks.
Authorities said the blast radius of the two strikes was “very large,” shattering at least 2,000 windows across the city and damaging residences, shops, administrative buildings and the Friendship Hotel. Photographs shared by Ukrainian officials showed the hotel with several floors completely missing.
Debris cleanup had resumed by Tuesday morning. Rescue operations near a damaged five-story residential building were also underway, the State Emergency Service said.
The strikes in Pokrovsk appeared to bear the hallmark of a “double-tap” attack, in which troops conduct a first missile strike, wait, and then a fire a second projectile shortly after, allegedly targeting the emergency works responding to the initial attack.
A report last year from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) accused Russia of carrying out a double-tap attack in Kharkiv as well as other “clear patterns” of violations of international humanitarian law.
At least 78 rescue workers have been killed in Ukraine since the invasion began and another 280 have been wounded, a spokesman for the State Emergency Service said.
Pokrovsk is located in Donetsk, an eastern Ukrainian region where fighting has been ongoing since 2014, when Russia began backing pro-Moscow separatists in the Donbas region. Donetsk was one of four territories President Vladimir Putin said Russia would annex last year in violation of international law.
CNN’s Yulia Kesaieva and Joshua Berlinger contributed to this report.