KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian forces shelled Russian positions in the occupied and illegally annexed southern region of Kherson, targeting supply routes across a major river while closing in. Friday to a full assault on one of the first urban areas captured by Russia after invade the country.
Russian-installed officials reportedly tried desperately to turn the city of Kherson, a prime target for both sides due to its key industries and major river and sea port, into a fortress while attempting to evacuate dozens of thousands of inhabitants.
According to the Ukrainian army general staff, the Kremlin sent up to 2,000 conscripts to the Kherson region – one of the four provinces illegally annexed by Moscow and subject to Russian martial law – to replenish losses and reinforce front-line units.
The Dnieper River figures prominently in the regional battle as it performs essential functions – passages for supplies, troops and civilians; drinking water for southern Ukraine and the annexed Crimean peninsula; and the production of electricity from a hydroelectric plant. Much of the area, including the power station and a canal supplying Crimea with water, is under Russian control.
Kremlin-based Kherson officials said the Ukrainian bombing of a ferry on the Dnieper River killed two journalists working for a local television station they had set up under the occupation. At least two other people were reportedly killed and 13 injured.
Natalia Humeniuk, spokeswoman for the Southern Ukrainian Operational Command, confirmed that the Ukrainian military struck the Antonivskyi Bridge, but only during a nighttime curfew put in place by Russian authorities to prevent civilian casualties.
“We are not attacking civilians and settlements,” Humeniuk told Ukrainian television.
Earlier Ukrainian strikes had rendered the Antonivskyi Bridge inoperable, prompting Russian authorities to set up ferry crossings and pontoon bridges to move civilians and transport supplies to Russian troops in Kherson, which is on the west bank of the Dnieper .
Russian-installed officials are trying to evacuate up to 60,000 people from Kherson for their safety and to allow the army to build fortifications. Ukraine’s military reported Friday that bank workers, medical workers and teachers were moving out as the city’s infrastructure deteriorated.
“The situation is really difficult,” said deputy head of the Kherson Kremlin-based regional administration, Kirill Stremousov, in a video he posted on Telegram. “Today we are preparing the city of Kherson as a defensive fortress and are ready to defend ourselves to the end. Our task is to rescue people, build defenses and protect the city.
The city of Kherson, with a pre-war population of around 284,000, was one of the first urban areas captured by Russia when it invaded Ukraine, and it remains the largest city that ‘she holds.
Another flashpoint on the Dnieper is the Kakhovka Dam, which creates a large reservoir and associated hydroelectric power station, about 70 km (44 miles) from the city of Kherson. Each side accuses the other of targeting the facilities. Russian-installed officials say Ukrainian forces attacked the facilities in part to cut off Crimea’s water supply.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy claims the Russians plan to blow up the dam and power plant to release 18 million cubic meters (4.8 billion gallons) of water and flood Kherson and dozens of other areas where people live. hundreds of thousands of people. He told the European Council on Thursday that Russia would then blame Ukraine.
None of the claims could be independently verified.
Russian President Vladimir Putin last month annexed the Ukrainian regions of Kherson, Luhansk, Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia, although his forces do not control all of the territory. Putin declared martial law in the regions from Thursday assert Russian authority in the face of military setbacks and strong international criticism.
In the Donetsk region, two people were killed in the Russian shelling of the town of Bakhmut, said Pavlo Kyrylenko, Ukrainian governor of the province. Russian troops have been unable to advance towards the city for over a month.
In the recently reclaimed capital of Kharkiv region in eastern Ukraine, nine people were injured in two Russian attacks, according to Governor Oleh Syniehubov. In the city of Zaporizhzhia, a Russian S-300 missile strike on Friday injured three people and damaged a residential building, a school and infrastructure, Ukrainian authorities said.
“Each strike will scare no one. This will make us stronger,” said the acting administrative head of the Dniprovskyi district, Volodymyr Hrianysty.
In an apparent effort to prevent hostilities from spiraling out of control, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin contacted Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on Friday for their first phone call since May 13. defense officers said that for some time the Russians had not responded to American efforts to establish calls.
Russia’s deployment of planes and troops to airbases in Belarus has raised the specter of another front on Ukraine’s northern border, although Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said on Friday: “We don’t let’s go nowhere today… If you don’t want to fight with us, then we won’t, there will be no war.
The Ukrainian army general staff reported an increased likelihood that Belarus could attack to cut off supply routes for Western weapons and equipment. The build-up could also be aimed at diverting resources from Ukraine and weakening its counteroffensive in the south.
As the prospects for peace look dim, the Kremlin insisted on Friday that Putin had been open to negotiations “from the very beginning” and that “nothing has changed”. Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Putin “tried to engage in talks with NATO and the United States even before the special military operation” – the Russian term for his war in Ukraine.
Peskov was responding to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who said earlier on Friday that the Russian leader appeared to be “much softer and more open to negotiations.”
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