The hometown of Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was attacked by suicide drones Sunday as Russia struck back against the effective Ukrainian counteroffensive that has pushed its troops back from thousands of miles of land they had occupied for months.
The southern town of Krivyi Rih came under Russian attack by a suicide drone that destroyed two stories of a school early Sunday, said Valentyn Reznichenko, governor of Ukraine's Dnipropetrovsk region. The Ukrainian air force said Sunday that it shot down five Iranian-made drones overnight but that two others made it through air defenses.
The attack came one day after Ukrainian troops forced Russian troops to withdraw from Lyman, a strategic Donbas region city located in one of four areas incorporated by Russia on Friday.
"Russia staged a farce in Donbas," Zelenskyy said Sunday. "And now Ukrainian flags are flying there."
RUSSIAN TROOPS FORCED TO RETREAT: Russia abandons annexed city as Ukraine pushes forward
►The Ukrainian military said it shot down eight of Russia's Iranian-built drones, seven tanks and an ammunition warehouse on Sunday.
German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht pledged delivery of 16 wheeled armored howitzers produced in Slovakia to Ukraine next year. They will be produced in Slovakia and financed jointly with Denmark, Norway and Germany.
►The Russian retreat from northeast Ukraine in recent weeks has revealed evidence of widespread, routine torture of both civilians and soldiers, notably in the strategic city of Izium, an Associated Press investigation has found.
Pope Francis urges Putin to halt 'spiral of violence and death'
Pope Francis on Sunday appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin for a cease-fire, imploring him to "stop this spiral of violence and death" in Ukraine and denouncing the "absurd" risks of nuclear war. Francis uttered his strongest plea yet about the 7-month-old "horror." The pope, speaking to a Sunday crowd at St. Peter's Square. also called on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to "be open" to serious peace proposals.
"How the war is going in Ukraine has become so grave, devastating and threatening that it sparks great worry," Francis said.
9 EU countries issue statement in support of EU membership for Ukraine
Leaders of nine Eastern European leaders released a statement Sunday reiterating support for Ukraine membership in the European Union and saying they will "never" recognize Russia's claim to four regions of the invaded country. Poland, Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania and Slovakia.
"We support Ukraine in its defense against Russian invasion, we demand that Russia immediately withdraw its troops from all occupied territories, and we call on all members of the Alliance to significantly increase military assistance to Ukraine," the statement says. "All those who commit crimes of aggression must be held accountable and brought to justice."
Contributing: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ukraine updates: Russia his Zelenskyy hometown; pope calls out Putin