“This is not a repetition of history; this is the daily reality of our country,” Mr. Zelensky said in a statement after the attack late on Wednesday.
Kramatorsk has been the target of frequent rocket attacks by Russian forces since the war began in February, but in recent weeks, the strikes on the city center have intensified as Russian forces ramp up for an expected offensive to take the whole of Ukraine’s Donbas region. The city, a sprawling industrial hub that was home to about 200,000 people before the war, poses a serious impediment to Russia’s control of the region.
Kramatorsk also sits just 20 miles northwest of a more immediate Russian objective, the smaller city of Bakhmut, and is vital to Ukraine’s efforts to resupply its forces holding Bakhmut. Kremlin forces have fought for months to conquer Bakhmut, at a huge cost in Russian casualties, and its fall would be Moscow’s first significant military victory since the summer.
Both sides, their forces slowed by winter conditions, are expected to attempt major offensives in the coming weeks. But Mr. Zelensky has said that the increasing artillery strikes in the east, coupled with a large Russian troop buildup in occupied parts of eastern Ukraine, suggest that the Russians may be beginning one now.
Addressing Ukrainians on Thursday night, Mr. Zelensky expressed confidence that his country would prevail — but acknowledged that the Russians could still inflict pain.
“Tactically,” he said, “they still have the resources to attempt offensive actions. They are looking for options to try to change the course of the war, and are trying to put the potential of all the territories they still control in the service of aggression.”
Michael Schwirtz reported from Kramatorsk, Ukraine, and Anton Troianovski from Berlin. Reporting was contributed by Eric Nagourney, Marc Santora, Matthew Mpoke Bigg, Shashank Bengali and Erin Mendell.