Blasts shook Ukraine’s southern city of Mykolaiv yesterday as Russia’s artillery helped grind out gains in the east, after a week when the civilian death toll from Russian missile strikes climbed in urban centres well behind the frontline.
“There are powerful explosions in the city! Stay in shelters!” Oleksandr Senkevych, mayor of the Mykolaiv region which borders the vital Black Sea port of Odesa, wrote on the Telegram messaging app as air raid sirens sounded.
The cause of the blasts was not immediately clear, although Russia later said it had hit army command posts in the area. Reuters could not independently verify the reports.
Kyiv says Moscow has intensified missile attacks on cities far from the main battlefields in the country’s east and that it deliberately hit civilian sites. Ukrainian troops on the eastern frontlines meanwhile describe intense artillery barrages that have pummelled residential areas. Russia says it has targeted military sites and denies aiming at civilians. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said “Russian Armed Forces do not work with civilian targets”.
The Chief of General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, Valery Gerasimov, inspected Russian troops involved in what Moscow calls its “special military operation”, Russia’s defence ministry said, although it was not clear if he was in Ukraine.
The inspection follows slow but steady gains by Russian forces with the help of relentless artillery in east Ukraine, a focus for Moscow after it narrowed its broader war goals of toppling the government following fierce Ukrainian resistance.
“Definitely they are trying to demoralise us. Maybe some people are affected by that, but for us it only brings more hatred and determination,” said a Ukrainian soldier returning from Lysychansk, Ukraine’s last bastion in Luhansk province. Russian forces seized Sievierodonetsk, a major city in Luhansk this month, after some of the heaviest fighting of the four-month-old war that pounded whole districts into rubble. Other settlements now face similar bombardment.
“Private houses in attacked villages are burning down one by one,” Luhansk Governor Serhiy Gaidai said on Telegram, adding that shelling stopped Lysychansk residents from dousing fires.
Troops on a break from the fighting and speaking in Konstyantynivka, a market town about 115km west of Lysychansk, said they had managed to keep the supply road to the embattled city open, for now, despite Russian bombardment.
“We still use the road because we have to, but it’s within artillery range of the Russians,” said one soldier, who usually lives in Kyiv but asked not to be named, as comrades relaxed nearby, munching on sandwiches or eating ice cream. “The Russian tactic right now is to just shell any building we could locate ourselves at. When they’ve destroyed it, they move on to the next one,” the soldier said.
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