New recruits to the Ukranian army being trained by UK armed forces personnel at a military base near Manchester

Ukraine plans a “million-strong army” equipped with Nato weapons to retake the south of the country from occupying Russians, the defence minister says.

Retaking the areas around the Black Sea coast was vital to the country’s economy, Oleksii Reznikov said.

However, the comments are more of a rallying cry than a concrete plan, says the BBC’s Joe Inwood in Kyiv.

The defence minister’s remarks come as Russia makes progress in taking territory in the eastern Donbas region.

An attack on a block of flats on Sunday killed at least 24 people – with nine people rescued from under the rubble, Ukraine’s state emergency services said.

Rescuers are still looking for survivors at the site of the five-storey building in Chasiv Yar, near the city of Kramatorsk, in the Donetsk region which has been the focus of a Russian push.

In his interview with The Times newspaper, Mr Reznikov praised the UK for being “key” in the transition from providing Ukraine with Soviet-era weapons to Nato-standard air defence systems and ammunition.

He said weapons deliveries needed to be sped up.

“We need more, quickly, to save the lives of our soldiers. Each day we’re waiting for howitzers, we can lose a hundred soldiers,” he said.

“We have approximately 700,000 in the armed forces and when you add the national guard, police, border guard, we are around a million-strong,” the defence minister said.

The devastated apartment block in Chasiv Yar, eastern Ukraine, 10 Jul 22
Chasiv Yar: Bodies were recovered from the devastated apartment block

However, Dr Jack Watling, senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, cautioned against the figure.

“It’s not a million-strong force that will be conducting a counter-attack,” Mr Watling told the BBC.

“Normally you would want operational surprise when you launch a counter-attack, so announcing it publicly is partly about forcing the Russians to have to commit resources more widely to guard against this threat.”

The comments come as three people were killed and 31 wounded after residential areas in the eastern city of Kharkiv were struck by Russian shells, the regional governor said.