Kyiv: Ukraine said on Tuesday it had carried out a long-range rocket strike against Russian forces and military equipment in southern Ukraine territory it says it is planning to retake in a counter-offensive using hundreds of thousands of troops. The strike hit an ammunition dump in the town of Nova Kakhovka in the Kherson region and killed 52 people, Ukraine`s military said. It came after Washington supplied Ukraine with advanced HIMARS mobile artillery systems which Kyiv says its forces are using with growing efficiency.
The town`s Russia-installed authorities gave a different version of events. The Russian TASS news agencies reported they said that at least seven people had been killed in the attack and around 70 injured. A Russian-backed official in Kherson said at least seven people had been killed and that civilians and civilian infrastructure had been hit. Reuters could not independently verify the battlefield accounts.
The area Ukraine struck is one that Russia seized after launching on Feb. 24 what Moscow called “a special military operation” in its fellow ex-Soviet neighbour and is of strategic importance with Black Sea access, a once-thriving agricultural industry and a location just north of Russian-annexed Crimea.
Ukrainian government officials have spoken of efforts to marshal up to a million troops and of their aim to recapture southern parts of the country now under Russian control. “Based on the results of our rocket and artillery units, the enemy lost 52 (people), and Msta-B howitzer, a mortar and seven armoured and other vehicles, as well as an ammunition depot in Nova Kakhovka,” Ukraine`s southern military command said in a statement.
Unverified videos posted on social media showed smoke and sparks, followed by an immense fireball erupting into the night sky. Images released by Russian state media showed a wasteland covered in rubble and the remains of buildings.
An official from the Russian-backed local administration said that Ukraine had used HIMARS missiles and that they had destroyed warehouses containing saltpetre, a chemical compound which can be used to make fertilizer or gunpowder. A large explosion resulted. Russia`s TASS news agency reported later that the fires were extinguished.
The Ukrainian Defence Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the kind of weapon used. “There are still many people under the rubble. The injured are being taken to the hospital, but many people are blocked in their apartments and houses,” Vladimir Leontyev, head of the Russia-installed Kakhovka District military-civilian administration, was quoted by TASS as saying. He said that warehouses, shops, a pharmacy, gas stations and a church had been hit.
The conflict has blocked access to Ukraine`s grain and cooking oils, exacerbating a global food crisis. More than 20 million tonnes of grain are stuck in silos at the key Black Sea port of Odesa. Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said military delegations from Ukraine, Russia and Turkey would meet U.N. officials in Istanbul on Wednesday to discuss a possible deal to resume safe exports of Ukrainian grain.
“We are working hard indeed but there is still a way to go,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters.
As Russia blockades Ukraine`s main Black Sea ports, Ukraine Deputy Infrastructure Minister Yuriy Vaskov said grain shipments via the Danube River had increased with the reopening of the Bystre canal, which provides access to small inland river ports.
Ukraine expects monthly grain exports to rise by 500,000 tonnes as a result, Vaskov said. Ukraine is also negotiating with Romania and the European Commission about increasing shipments through the Sulina canal, he said.
Russia has accused Ukraine of shelling its own people in the territory where it has lost control. Ukraine says it evacuates as many people as possible from areas seized by Russian forces in what it and the West have cast as an attempted imperial-style land grab by Moscow. Kyiv and the West say Russia`s own strikes have been indiscriminate, killing civilians and levelling city districts.
Moscow denies targeting civilians but many Ukrainian population centres have been left in ruins as Europe`s biggest conflict since World War Two grinds towards the five-month mark.
The U.N. human rights office said on Tuesday that 5,024 civilians had been killed in Ukraine since the invasion began, adding that the real toll was likely much higher.
Russia has tried to introduce the rouble in Kherson and is offering Russian passports to locals. Russian-installed officials say they also plan to hold a referendum on the region becoming part of Russia but have not yet set a date.
Ukraine is itself bracing for what it expects will be a massive new Russian offensive in the east where Moscow says it is determined to take control of all of the industrial Donbas region.
Russian forces, which earlier this month completed the capture of Luhansk province in the Donbas, have for weeks been shelling parts of neighbouring Donetsk province.
Regional Donetsk governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said there was a significant buildup of Russian troops, particularly in the Bakhmut and Siversky areas, and around Sloviansk and Kramatorsk.
The entire front line in the region was under constant shelling as Russian troops tried to break through but were being repelled, he said. Ukraine says ships pass through Danube rivermouth
Ukraine sparked hopes Tuesday for an increase in grain exports despite Russia`s blockade of Black Sea ports, noting that ships had started to pass through an important mouth of the Danube river. “In the last four days, 16 ships have passed through the Bystre river mouth,” Deputy Infrastructure Minister Yuriy Vaskov was quoted as a saying in a ministry statement. “We plan to maintain this pace.”
The ministry said the 16 vessels were now waiting to be loaded with Ukrainian grain for export to foreign markets, while more than 90 more vessels were awaiting their turn in Romania`s Sulina canal.
Only four ships could be received per day along the Sulina route, he said, while a rate of eight per day was needed. But Ukraine was negotiating with Romanian colleagues and European Commission representatives about increasing the rate of crossings, he added.
If such conditions were met, and with the opening of the Bystre, he said Ukraine expected this ship congestion would end within a week and that monthly exports of grain would increase by 500,000 tonnes.
Before Russia`s invasion, the ministry said, sea ports accounted for about 80 per cent of Ukraine`s export of agricultural products, but food exports are now restricted to Danube ports, railways and roadways to the west.
Ukraine and Russia: What you need to know right now
Ukraine said it had carried out a long-range rocket strike against Russian forces in southern Ukraine, killing 52 people. Pro-Russian forces said the strike hit civilian infrastructure, killing seven and injuring around 70. The United Nations said more than 5,000 civilians have been killed in the war.
* A Ukrainian assault on an ammunition dump in the town of Nova Kakhovka in the southern Kherson region killed 52 people, Ukraine`s military said. It came after Washington supplied Ukraine with advanced HIMARS mobile artillery systems which Kyiv says its forces are using with growing efficiency.
* Nova Kakhovka`s Russia-installed authorities gave a different version of events. The Russian TASS news agencies reported they said that at least seven people had been killed in the attack and around 70 injured. A Russian-backed official in Kherson said civilians and civilian infrastructure had been hit.
* At least 12 people were injured in shelling of the southern city of Mykolaiv overnight, the regional governor said. In the northeast, the mayor of Kharkiv, Ukraine`s second city, told Ukrainian TV that it was under constant Russian shelling.
* The death toll under a collapsed apartment block in the Donetsk region town of Chasiv Yar has climbed to 43, with rescue work still not over four days after the building was hit by Russian rocket fire, emergency services said.
* Reuters could not independently verify battlefield accounts.
* The European Union has so far frozen 13.8 billion euros ($13.83 billion) worth of assets held by Russian oligarchs, other individuals and entities sanctioned for Moscow`s war against Ukraine, the bloc`s top justice official said.
* Military delegations from Ukraine, Russia and Turkey will meet U.N. officials in Istanbul on Wednesday to discuss a possible deal to resume safe exports of Ukraine grain from the major Black Sea port of Odesa as a global food crisis worsens. More than 20 million tonnes of grain are stuck in silos in Odesa.
* The UN human rights office said more than 5,000 civilians had been killed in Ukraine since Russia invaded on Feb. 24, adding that the real toll was probably much higher.