KYIV (NYTIMES) – As firefighters raced to pull people from the rubble and flames lit up the night sky, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine decried a Russian missile strike on a residential neighbourhood in Kharkiv on Wednesday night (Aug 17) as a “vile and cynical attack on civilians”.

The dead were still being pulled from the rubble, he said, but the strike was the latest evidence that Russia, struggling on the battlefield in the east and south of the country, was terrorising civilians to advance its ultimate goal of destroying the Ukrainian state.

Ukrainian officials said at least six civilians were killed and 16 were wounded, warning that the number was likely to rise.

The strike comes as Russia has not made any major territorial advances since early July when it captured the city of Lysychansk, securing the Luhansk region in eastern Ukraine.

Ukrainian forces have been using long-range Western weapons to try to degrade Russian combat capability, attacking deep beyond the front lines to hit command and control centres, ammunition depots and vital supply routes.

Kharkiv, in northeast Ukraine and the country’s second-largest city, has been bombarded by a nearly constant stream of incoming artillery, rockets and missiles over the past six months.

Early in the war, Russian forces tried to surround and capture the city, but failed and were eventually forced back by Ukrainian forces.

Still, Ukrainian and Western military analysts say the Kremlin has never given up on its goal of capturing the city, which is just 25 miles (40km) from the Russian border.

On Tuesday, Russian rockets hit five of the city’s nine districts. On Wednesday, a Russian rocket hit a dormitory in a residential neighbourhood.

“When you hear about Kharkiv’s pain, it hurts again,” Mr Zelensky said in a statement on his Telegram channel, posting a video of the aftermath of the strike.

Earlier in the day, the city’s mayor, Mr Ihor Terekhov, said Kharkiv’s ability to function despite the Russian attacks was one reason that Moscow continued to try to bring its residents to their knees. The attacks had picked up in recent days, in what the mayor said was a sign of Russian frustration over the city’s unwillingness to bend.

“Today, Russian troops shell Kharkiv with such hatred, with such aggressiveness, such cynical destruction of the city occurs because Kharkiv does not give up. Kharkiv is a Ukrainian city that continues to live,” he said.

“They purposefully destroy the infrastructure to make Kharkiv residents freeze during the heating season. Our task is to withstand.”

Russia has also continued to bombard the port city of Mykolaiv on Ukraine’s southern coast. The city – a key staging ground for Ukrainian forces as they seek to cut off thousands of Russian soldiers west of the Dnieper River – has been under relentless fire.

Ukraine’s southern command said on Wednesday that Russian attack aircraft and helicopters hit Ukrainian positions nine times overnight and destroyed vital port infrastructure.

Mr Oleksandr Senkevych, the mayor of Mykolaiv, said the Russians also had hit a local university.

“Just a few days ago I posted a video showing that there is no military base there, that ordinary specialists of the university work there; they accept applicants’ documents, sign circular letters, issue diplomas,” he said in a message posted on social media.

In the nearby city of Odesa, missile strikes hit a recreation centre and destroyed several homes, Mr Serhii Bratchuk, spokesman of the Odesa regional military administration, said in a Telegram post. Three people were injured, he said.