KYIV/KONSTYANTYNIVKA – Blasts on Saturday shook Ukraine’s southern city of Mykolaiv, as Russian artillery helped boost gains in the east after a week in which the death toll of civilians from Russian rocket attacks in urban centers far behind the front lines soared .
“There are powerful explosions in the city! Stay in shelter!” Oleksandr Senkevych, mayor of the Mykolaiv region, which borders the vital port of Odessa on the Black Sea, wrote on the Telegram messaging app as the sirens of the airstrikes sounded.
The cause of the explosions was not immediately clear, although Russia later said it hit army command posts in the area. Reuters was unable to independently verify the reports.
Kiev says Moscow has intensified rocket attacks on cities far from the main battlefields in the east of the country and deliberately hit civilian sites. Ukrainian troops on the eastern front lines, meanwhile, describe intense artillery shelling that has ravaged residential areas.
Russia says it targeted military sites and denies targeting civilians. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “Russian armed forces do not work with civilian targets.”
The Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, Valery Gerasimov, inspected Russian troops involved in what Moscow calls its “special military operation,” the Russian Defense Ministry said, although it was not clear whether he was in Ukraine.
The inspection follows slow but steady gains by Russian forces with the help of relentless artillery in eastern Ukraine, a focus for Moscow after it narrowed its broader war goals of overthrowing the government after fierce Ukrainian resistance.
“They are definitely trying to demoralize us. It may affect some people, but for us it just brings more hatred and determination,” said a Ukrainian soldier returning from Lysychansk, Ukraine’s last bastion in Luhansk province.
Russia is trying to expel Ukrainian troops from Luhansk and Donetsk provinces in the industrialized eastern Donbas region, where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Kiev since Russia’s first military intervention in Ukraine in 2014.
The Russian news agency TASS quoted a source close to Russian-backed troops in Luhansk as saying that Ukraine’s last troops in Lysychansk were heavily attacked. “They will be defeated in the near future if they don’t surrender,” the source said.
It was not possible to independently verify the report. Ukrainian officials did not immediately respond to requests from Reuters for comment.
Russian troops took Sievierodonetsk, a major city in Luhansk, this month after some of the heaviest fighting of the four-month-old war that left entire districts in ruins. Other settlements are now facing similar bombings.
“Private houses in attacked villages are burning down one by one,” Luhansk governor Serhiy Gaidai said on Telegram, adding that shelling prevented the residents of Lysychansk from putting out the fires.
Ukraine has called for more weapons from the West, saying its armed forces are severely outnumbered by the Russian military.
Troops who had interrupted the fighting and spoke to Konstyantynivka, a market town about 115 km (72 miles) west of Lysychansk, said they had managed to keep the supply road to the disputed city open for now, despite Russian bombing.
“We still use the road because we have to, but it’s within artillery range of the Russians,” said one soldier, who mostly lives in Kiev but doesn’t want to be named, as comrades relaxed nearby, munching on sandwiches or taking a drink. eating ice cream.
“The Russian tactic at the moment is to shell every building we might find ourselves in. When they destroy it, they move on to the next one,’ said the soldier.
Russia has also hit cities far behind the front lines. A rocket hit an apartment building near the southern port city of Odessa on Friday, killing at least 21 people, authorities said. A shopping center was hit in the central city of Kremenchuk on Monday, killing at least 19.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy denounced the attacks in a speech on Friday as “deliberate, deliberately targeted Russian terror and not some kind of mistake or an accidental missile attack”. Moscow has denied such allegations.
Thousands of civilians have been killed and cities razed to the ground since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 in what Moscow calls a “special military operation” to wipe out nationalists. Ukraine and its Western allies say it is an unprovoked war of aggression.
Despite being battered in the east, Ukrainian forces have made progress elsewhere, including forcing Russia to withdraw from Snake Island, a rocky outcrop in the Black Sea about 140 km (85 miles) southeast of Odessa connecting Moscow. captured at the start of the war.
Russia had used Snake Island to impose a blockade on Ukraine, one of the world’s largest grain exporters and a major producer of vegetable oil seed. The disruptions have contributed to rising global grain and food prices.
Russia, also a major grain producer, denies causing the food crisis and blames Western sanctions for hurting its exports.