Wave of Russian shelling hits military, civilian targets: Ukraine

 Wave of Russian shelling hits military, civilian targets: Ukraine


Russia is attacking scores of civilian and military targets in its bid to establish full control over the eastern Ukraine regions of Luhansk and Donetsk, with 120 rockets hitting the area around the town of Nikopol overnight, Ukrainian officials said.

Dnipropetrovsk Governor Valentyn Reznychenko said three people were killed and seven wounded by shelling in Nikopol when 120 Grad rockets hit the area.

“The enemy is concentrating its efforts on establishing full control over the territories of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions,” Ukraine’s General Staff said in an early Thursday report, citing more than 60 settlements and military targets.

Heavy fighting raged around the eastern Ukrainian town of Pisky on Thursday, while to the west, Ukraine accused Russian forces of using a nuclear plant to shield artillery.

Map shows the territories occupied by Russia so far in Ukraine.  (AFP)
Map shows the territories occupied by Russia so far in Ukraine. (AFP)

An official with the Russia-backed Donetsk People’s Republic said Pisky, on the front line 10 kilometers (6 miles) northwest of the provincial capital Donetsk, was under the control of Russian and separatist forces.

“It’s hot in Pisky. The town is ours but there remain scattered pockets of resistance in its north and west,” the official, Danil Bezsonov, said on Telegram.

Ukrainian officials denied that the heavily fortified town, a key to the defense of Donetsk, had fallen.

Reuters was unable to verify the battlefield accounts.

The Donbass region, comprising Luhansk and Donetsk provinces, became Russia’s main objective after it failed to seize the capital Kyiv at the beginning of the war in February. Luhansk is now almost completely under Russian control but Donetsk is holding out.

Oleksiy Arestovych, a Ukrainian presidential adviser, said in an interview posted on YouTube that the Russian “movement into Pisky” had been “without success.”

Luhansk regional Governor Serhiy Gaidai, interviewed on Ukrainian television, said Russia had sent increasing numbers of mercenaries into the region, including from the Wagner private security firm.

“We once had peaceful Ukrainian towns. Now we have been thrust into the Middle Ages … People are now leaving because they are afraid of freezing in the coming winter,” he said.

The British military said this week that Russia had formed a major new ground force called the 3rd Army Corps from “volunteer battalions,” seeking men up to age 50 and requiring only a middle-school education while offering “lucrative cash bonuses” once they are deployed to Ukraine.

New phase

The war in Ukraine is expected to enter a new phase in the coming weeks. Ukraine drove Russian forces back from the capital Kyiv in March and from the outskirts of the second-largest city Kharkiv in May. Russia captured more territory in the east in huge battles that killed thousands of troops on both sides in June.

Since then, front lines have been largely static, but Kyiv says it is preparing a big push to recapture the southern regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, the main slice of territory captured since the Feb. 24 invasion held by Moscow.

Russia has reinforced those regions, but its defense depends on being able to control supply lines to stock its troops with the thousands of shells a day that its artillery-heavy forces are accustomed to firing.

Kyiv hopes the arrival last month of US rocket systems capable of hitting Russian targets behind the front line could tip the balance in its favor. But so far, the West had held off on providing longer-range rockets that could strike deep in Russia itself or hit Moscow’s many bases in annexed Crimea.

Satellite pictures released on Thursday showed devastation at a Russian air base in Crimea, hit days earlier in an attack that suggested Kyiv may have obtained new long-range strike capability with the potential to change the course of the war.

Pictures released by independent satellite firm Planet Labs showed three near-identical craters that had precisely struck buildings at Russia’s Saki air base. The base on the southwest coast of Crimea had suffered extensive fire damage, with the burnt-out husks of at least eight destroyed warplanes clearly visible.

Russia has denied aircraft were damaged and said explosions seen at the base on Tuesday were accidental.

Ukraine has not publicly claimed responsibility for the attack or said exactly how it was carried out.

“Officially, we are not confirming or denying anything; there are numerous scenarios for what might have happened… bearing in mind that there were several epicenters of explosions at exactly the same time,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak told Reuters in a message .

Russia says its “special military operation” is going to plan to protect Russian speakers in the south and east, where it recognizes separatists as independent. Ukraine and its Western allies say the invasion failed in an initial bid to overthrow the government in Kyiv, and Moscow now aims to solidify its grip on as much territory as possible with the ultimate goal of extinguishing Ukraine as an independent nation.

Tens of thousands of people have died, millions have fled and cities have been destroyed since Russia invaded on Feb. 24.

China backs Russia

Russia on Wednesday received powerful endorsement from China of its rationale for the Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine.

China’s Ambassador to Russia, Zhang Hanhui, accused the United States of pushing Russia into a corner with repeated expansions of the NATO military alliance and support for Ukraine’s alignment with the European Union.

Washington’s “ultimate goal is to exhaust and crush Russia with a protracted war and the cudgel of sanctions,” Zhang was quoted as saying.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Arestovych said dozens of civilians had been killed by Russian shelling on Wednesday.

Russia says it does not deliberately target civilians in what it calls its “special military operation” aimed at safeguarding its security against NATO expansion.

Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of waging an unprovoked imperial-style war of aggression.

The head of the Russian-backed separatist administration in the Donetsk region said on Wednesday that a trial of captured members of Ukraine’s Azov Regiment would take place by the end of the summer, likely in the city of Mariupol.

The regiment, a unit of Ukraine’s national guard with far-right and ultranationalist origins, was heavily involved in the defense of Mariupol’s steelworks. Hundreds of its fighters surrendered in May to Russian-backed forces.

The war has crushed Ukraine’s economy but there was some relief on Wednesday when overseas creditors backed a request for a two-year freeze on payments on almost $20 billion in international bonds. That should prevent a messy default.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said the deal would save almost $6 billion.

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