Blasts rock Ukrainian city as Russia grinds out gains in the east

Published July 3, 2022
Biologist and gardener Yevgen Yelpitiforov shows the keys of houses and apartments entrusted to him by people who fled the war in Irpin, Kyiv region.—AFP
Biologist and gardener Yevgen Yelpitiforov shows the keys of houses and apartments entrusted to him by people who fled the war in Irpin, Kyiv region.—AFP

KYIV: Blasts shook Ukraine’s southern city of Mykolaiv on Saturday 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.

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.

Russia is seeking to drive Ukrainian forces out of Luhansk and Donetsk provinces in the industrialised eastern Donbas region where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Kyiv since Russia’s first military intervention in Ukraine in 2014. Russia’s TASS news agency quoted a source close to Russia-backed forces in Luhansk saying Ukraine’s last forces in Lysychansk were under intense attack. “They will be defeated in the near future if they do not surrender,” the source said.

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.

Published in Dawn, July 3rd, 2022

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