KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian forces used ground- and air-fired missiles, rocket launchers and weaponized drones to bombard the provinces of Ukraine it has illegally annexed but doesn’t fully control, causing casualties, building damage and power outages Friday.
The Ukrainian military said Russian forces launched 18 airstrikes, five missile strikes and 53 attacks from multiple rocket launchers between Thursday and Friday mornings.
According to the General Staff statement, Russia was concentrating the bulk of its offensive operations in Ukraine’s industrial east, focusing on the cities and towns of Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiivka and Marinka in Donetsk province.
Most of Friday’s battlefield reports concerned the four Ukrainian provinces Russia annexed in September: Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson. Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered his military to gain complete control of the provinces, while Ukraine has indicated it will soon launch a counteroffensive to take back more territory.
Russia also annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014, a move that most of the world also regarded as illegal. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has vowed to regain all Russian-occupied areas.
Looking ahead to how the war might end, Ukraine’s defense minister, Oleksii Reznikov, told Cypriot state broadcaster CyBC ahead of talks with his Cypriot counterpart on Friday that his country would negotiate peace with Russia only after its occupied territory is liberated. He said Zelenskyy has made clear he would negotiate only with Putin’s successor to ensure peaceful coexistence.
Regarding armament procurement, Reznikov said Ukraine’s top priority is for antiaircraft systems, followed by artillery ammunition, infantry vehicles, tanks and electronic warfare equipment, including drones and anti-drone technology.
In the latest fighting, the Ukrainian military said it downed a Russian Su-25 ground attack jet near Marinka. A video showed a big explosion as the plane slammed into the ground, with its pilot descending on a parachute. The Russian military, in keeping with its general silence on losses, didn’t confirm the warplane’s downing.
British military officials said in their latest daily analysis that Russian forces have likely advanced into the center of Bakhmut and captured the western bank of the Bakhmutka River. Russia’s eight-month campaign to take Bakhmut and Ukraine’s determination to defend the city have produced the longest and potentially bloodiest battle of the war that Putin started on Feb. 24, 2022.
The U.K. Defense Ministry said Russia’s progress, which had largely stalled since the end of March, had regained momentum. According to British intelligence, Ukraine’s key supply route to the west of Bakhmut was under threat, with Russia using artillery more effectively and benefiting from reinforcements by regular forces that likely include airborne troops.
British military officials noted also that regular military commanders and those from the Wagner Group, a private Russian military company that has sent its soldiers to fight in multiple African countries, had probably improved cooperation and put on hold their “feud.”
The Wagner Group, which has appeared to take the lead in the Bakhmut fighting, has frequently complained about the regular Russian military’s strategy as well as its failure to provide sufficient ammunition and other support.
The Wagner Group’s owner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said Ukrainians continued to put up fierce resistance in Bakhmut.
“The enemy is not going anywhere,” Prigozhin wrote in a Telegram messaging app post Thursday. “They organized defense inside the city, first by rail, then in the area of high-rise buildings in the western quarter of the city.”
Also in Donetsk province, Russia launched a missile attack on the city of Sloviansk, destroying residential buildings, while one civilian was wounded during fighting in Bakhmut. Donetsk regional Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said Friday morning that 15 cities and villages on the front line were shelled in the region. The Moscow-installed mayor of Donetsk city, Aleksei Kulemzin, said Ukrainian shelling killed one person and wounded six.
Russia’s Defense Ministry reported inflicting dozens of casualties on Ukrainian forces and destroying drones and other Ukrainian weapons and combat vehicles in several battlefront hot spots in the annexed provinces.
Each side tends to report only the losses it inflicts on its enemy, and their claims are generally impossible to verify independently.
In southern Ukraine’s partially occupied Kherson province, seven people were wounded in 24 hours, regional Gov. Oleksandr Prokudin said Friday. Writing on Telegram, Prokudin said that Russia had carried out 46 attacks on the province, including seven attacks on the regional capital, also called Kherson, with heavy artillery and aircraft fire.
A 10-year-old girl, a 3-year-old boy and 30-year-old woman were wounded Friday in Russian shelling of the village of Stanislav in the province, the head of Ukraine’s presidential office Andriy Yermak, reported.
Earlier, debris from Russian ammunition killed a 36-year-old resident of Beryslav, another city in Kherson province. Residential areas of Kherson city were shelled seven times, damaging energy facilities and residential buildings. A drone attack on the village of Zmiyivka wounded six people.
Shells hit Nikopol and Marhanets – across the Dnieper River from the occupied and shut-down Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant – in Ukraine’s eastern Dnipropetrovsk province, damaging power lines.
Further north, shelling in the Novhorod-Siverskyi district of the Chernihiv region left four towns and villages without electricity, authorities reported. Mortar fire damaged residential buildings in the town of Vovchansk in Kharkiv province, near the border with Russia. A 39-year-old man was killed in Russian shelling in the border village of Borysivka, Kharkiv Gov. Oleh Syniehubov said.
At a mosque on the outskirts of Kyiv, Zelenskyy met Ukrainian Muslim soldiers on Friday to celebrate Iftar, the evening meal marking the end of the Ramadan fast, and to underscore that Kyiv won’t give up on Crimea, a historic homeland of the Crimean Tatars, a Muslim ethnic minority. He noted that Russia began its campaign against Ukraine with the 2014 annexation of Crimea, and vowed: “Where the path of evil began, victory awaits us there, I am sure. Victory over this evil. The liberation of Crimea has no alternative.”
Crimean Tatars were deported en masse from their historic homeland of Crimea to Central Asia by the Soviets 70 years ago. They began returning to Crimea in the 1980s. ___
Associated Press reporters Hanna Arhirova, Yuras Karmanau in Tallinn, Estonia and Menelaos Hadjicostis in Nicosia, Cyprus, contributed to this report.
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