Kyiv – Russian missile strikes on the city of Mykolaiv in southern Ukraine killed at least five people, Ukrainian authorities said on Wednesday. regions.
While Mykolayev has been repeatedly targeted by Russian fire in recent days, Russian missiles also struck the city of Zaporozhye on Wednesday, an attack that could signal Moscow’s determination to hold on to territory in southern Ukraine as it seeks to fully conquer the east. Ukrainian forces have stepped up operations in an attempt to regain more territory in the south of the country.
Also on Wednesday, the top American diplomat accused Russia of committing a “war crime” by forcibly deporting hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian men, women and children to Russia with the intention of changing the demographic composition of Ukraine.
Some of the civilian deaths occurred in the Donetsk region, which is part of the region the Kremlin intends to seize. The governor of Donetsk, Paulo Kirilenko, said that the city of Bakhmut was subjected to particularly heavy shelling, as it is now in the center of the Russian offensive.
In nearby Luhansk Oblast, which Russian and separatist forces have almost conquered, Ukrainian soldiers were fighting to maintain control of two remote villages that came under Russian fire, Governor Sergei Gaidai said.
Together, Luhansk and Donetsk make up the Donbass, a predominantly Russian-speaking region of steel mills, mines and other industries.
The Russians are “deliberately turning Donbass into ashes, and there will simply be no people left in the captured territories,” Gaidai said.
Russia’s sights are directed to the east, the Ukrainian military tried to return the captured city in the south of the country. More Ukrainian rockets fired at Novaya Kakhovka, a city east of the Black Sea port of Kherson, on Wednesday night, a day after the Ukrainian military said it had used rockets to destroy a Russian ammunition depot there. Russia said that a storage of mineral fertilizers exploded.
According to regional authorities, new ammunition depots were fired at on Wednesday evening. The Russian news agency RIA Novosti, citing Russian-appointed officials in the occupied region, reported that Russian air defense intercepted five Ukrainian missiles. Reports on social media show heavy fiery explosions.
During the Russian attack on the southern city of Zaporozhye, two cruise missiles hit a factory and injured 14 people, Ukrainian officials said. The governor of the region published a photo showing the debris. The UNIAN news agency reported that the plant’s management evacuated the personnel in the bomb shelter, which, he said, could have saved their lives.
Russian artillery also hit northeastern Ukraine, where regional governor Oleg Sinegubov accused Russian forces of trying to “terrorize civilians” in Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken strongly condemned the “illegal transfer and deportation of protected persons” from areas of Ukraine now controlled by Russia.
“The Russian authorities must release the detainees and provide an opportunity for citizens of Ukraine who were forcibly deported or forced to leave their country to return home quickly and safely,” said Blinken’s statement.
Blinken said an estimated 900,000 to 1.6 million Ukrainian citizens — including 260,000 children — were interrogated, detained and deported to Russia, with some sent to the country’s far east.
“Moscow’s actions seem premeditated and draw direct historical comparisons with Russian “filtration” operations in Chechnya and other regions,” the American official said. an obvious attempt to change the demographic composition of part of Ukraine.”
Bleeken cited mounting evidence that Russian authorities are detaining, torturing or “disappearing” thousands of Ukrainian civilians whom Russia considers a threat because of their potential ties to the Ukrainian military, media, government or civil society groups. Some Ukrainians were reportedly executed without trial.
“President Putin and his government will not be able to participate in these systematic abuses with impunity. Accountability is necessary,” said Blinken. “The United States and our partners will not be silent. Ukraine and its citizens deserve justice.”
Meanwhile, Ukrainian and Russian officials met face-to-face on Wednesday for the first time in months. The military delegations of the two countries together with representatives of Turkey and the UN discussed a potential deal to export grain from blocked and mined ports of Ukraine through the Black Sea.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the two sides had taken “an important step forward” towards the agreement.
Ukraine is one of the world’s biggest exporters of wheat, corn and sunflower oil, but Russia’s invasion has halted supplies, threatening food supplies to many developing countries and driving up global prices.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine states that the export of grain from the ports of his country will not resume without guarantees of the safety of ship owners, cargo owners and Ukraine as an independent state.
In other developments:
— The leader of the Moscow-backed separatist government in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine said that foreign militants convicted of terrorism and attempts to overthrow the constitutional order for aiding Ukrainian troops have appealed their death sentences. If the court rejects the appeals, two Britons and a Moroccan could be shot. The leader of the Donetsk separatists, Denis Pushylin, said that about 100 members of the battalion of the National Guard of Ukraine, captured after the fall of Mariupol, should soon appear before the court.
– Pushilin also announced that North Korea has joined Syria in recognizing the independence of his “people’s republic”. The separatists have controlled parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions since 2014, but Putin only recognized their independence shortly before the invasion began in February.
— The UN refugee agency reported that most Ukrainian refugees want to return home, but plan to wait until the war is over. Almost two-thirds plan to stay put in their host countries for the time being. The vast majority of refugees from Ukraine are women and children. The UN agency’s findings came from a survey based on 4,900 interviews with refugees in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Moldova, Poland, Romania and Slovakia.
— Ukraine’s Emergency Situations Agency reported that the death toll from a Russian airstrike in the Donetsk city of Chasiv Yar over the weekend rose to 47. On Wednesday, rescuers continued to search for survivors amid the rubble of three residential buildings hit by Russian missiles on Saturday.
Jamie Kitten in Geneva contributed.
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