KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian missiles struck towns and villages in eastern and southern Ukraine, hitting homes, a school and a community center on Tuesday as Russian President Vladimir Putin secured a Iran’s strong support for his country’s military operation.
In Kramatorsk, a town in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk province considered a likely target for Russian occupation, one person was killed and 10 injured in an airstrike that hit a building of five floors, said regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko.
Fresh blood stained the concrete amid green leaves that were torn from trees as neighboring apartments on at least two floors burned. Shrapnel was placed in a small pile near an empty playground.
“There was no one here. Everything is in shambles,” said Halyna Maydannyk, a resident of a burned apartment. “Who knows why they do this? We all lived peacefully.
Kramatorsk residents Mykola Zavodovskyi and Tetiana Zavodovska stood in bandages outside a hospital. They heard a loud bang and went to their balcony to investigate, then everything exploded and the windows shattered.
“It was probably a rocket, and it was probably shot down by Ukrainian forces,” Zavodovska said.
The midday strike came after Kyrylenko reported four earlier Russian strikes in Kramatorsk and urged civilians to evacuate.
Politically, Putin visited Tehran, where Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said the West opposes an “independent and strong” Russia. Khamenei said if Russia hadn’t sent troops to Ukraine it would have faced a NATO attack, echoing Putin’s own rhetoric and reflecting increasingly close ties between Moscow and Tehran , as they both face severe Western sanctions. NATO allies have boosted their military presence in Eastern Europe and supplied Ukraine with weapons to help counter the Russian attack.
The Tehran talks also touched on attempts to unblock Ukrainian grain exports, an issue that is causing global shortages and driving up food prices. Putin told reporters after his meetings that Russia would help facilitate these shipments if the West lifted restrictions on Russian grain exports. He noted that “the Americans have effectively lifted the restrictions on the supply of Russian fertilizers to world markets”, adding that “if they sincerely want to improve the situation on the world food market, I hope they will do even with Russian grain exports”.
In the Odessa region of southern Ukraine, Russian forces fired seven Kalibr cruise missiles overnight. The Russian Defense Ministry said the strikes on the village of Bilenke achieved a legitimate military objective and “destroyed ammunition depots for weapons supplied by the United States and European countries”.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy disputed Moscow’s claim and said six people were injured, including a 5-month-old girl.
“What did they touch? Zelenskyy asked in his nightly video speech Tuesday. “An ordinary rural field and a farm without activity, rural houses, outbuildings, a high school, a cultural center. No military sense. Just terror.
With indications that Ukraine is planning counterattacks to retake occupied areas, the Russian military has in recent weeks targeted Odessa and parts of southern Ukraine where its troops captured towns earlier in the war.
To the east, Ukrainian forces are fighting to keep the declining territory under their control. Donetsk has been cut off from gas supplies and partly from water and electricity as the Russians attempt to complete their takeover of the province. Russia’s ground advance has slowed, partly because Ukraine is using more effective US weapons and partly because of what Putin called an “operational pause.” Russia is focusing more on aerial bombardment using long-range missiles.
“The infrastructure of cities is methodically destroyed by missile strikes, and the civilian population, cut off from the bare necessities, suffers the most,” Kyrylenko said.
Russian officials based in the southern region of Kherson, under Moscow’s control since the start of the war, said Ukrainian forces damaged the only bridge in the city of Kherson over the Dnipro River, east of Odessa. Kirill Stremousov, deputy head of the Kremlin-backed administration of the Kherson region, told Russia’s Interfax news agency that Ukrainian forces used US-made rocket launchers to damage the bridge in a bid to cut Kherson from the left bank of the Dnipro.
Ukrainian officials have spoken of counter-offensive plans to retake Kherson and other southern Ukrainian territories from the Russians.
Serhiy Khlan, an official with Ukraine’s Kherson region administration, tacitly confirmed the strike on Ukrainian television, reporting “a precise hit” and an explosion in the area of the bridge.
Also in the Kherson region, Ukraine claimed to have used anti-aircraft missiles to shoot down a Russian Su-35 fighter jet that had planned to attack its planes. Multiple ground videos posted on social media showed a plane crashing into the evening sky on Tuesday near Nova Kakhovka, blazing and belching gray and black smoke as it descended and crashed into the ground, at least some pieces in a green field. According to Ukrainian reports, the pilot ejected and showed that a helicopter was looking for him. Russian officials did not immediately confirm the shooting. Little information emerged during the war about air battles.
Kherson – home to a major shipbuilding industry at the confluence of the Dnieper and the Black Sea near Russian annexed Crimea – is one of several areas a US government spokesman said Russia was trying to annex. After months of local rumors and announcements about a Russian referendum, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said on Tuesday that US intelligence officials had amassed “ample” new evidence that Russia was officially seeking to annex additional Ukrainian territory and could hold a “sham”. public vote in September. Russia is eyeing Kherson as well as all of the Lugansk and Donetsk oblasts.
“Russia is preparing the ground to annex Ukrainian territory it controls in direct violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty,” Kirby said in Washington.
Kirby also said the White House is expected to announce additional military aid to Ukraine later this week. The aid is expected to include more High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HIMARS, a critical weapon that Ukrainian forces are successfully using in their fight to fend off Russian troops.
On the ground, Ukraine and Russia continued their sporadic exchanges of bodies of fallen soldiers. Each side gave the bodies of the remaining 45 soldiers in the Zaporizhzhia region. Russian news agency Ria-Novosti said on Tuesday that the soldiers were killed in Mariupol, the Sea of Azov city that has drawn worldwide attention due to a week-long siege of a steelworks.
At least two civilians have been killed and 15 injured by Russian shelling across Ukraine in the past 24 hours, Ukraine’s presidential office said in an update Tuesday morning.
As Russian missiles hit towns 799 kilometers (497 miles) apart on Tuesday, “there remains a high level of threat from missile strikes throughout Ukrainian territory,” said state spokesman Oleksandr Shtupun. Major General of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
The missile strikes came as the British military said it believed Russia was struggling to maintain its manpower in its bitter war of attrition which began with the February 24 invasion of Ukraine. .
Britain’s Ministry of Defense said in an assessment on Tuesday that Russia “has struggled to maintain effective offensive combat power since the invasion began, and this problem is likely to become increasingly acute” as Moscow seeks to conquer the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine.
The British Army added: “Although Russia may still make further territorial gains, her operational tempo and pace of advance is likely to be very slow without a significant operational pause for reorganization and refit.”
In other developments on Tuesday:
– Ukraine’s parliament approved President Volodymyr Zelensky’s dismissal of Ivan Bakanov as head of the country’s security service, the SBU, and the Ukrainian leader on Tuesday finalized the dismissal of Iryna Venediktova, who served as prosecutor general of Ukraine. As part of the reshuffle resulting from alleged collaboration with Russian authorities, Zelenskyy also sacked six other SBU officials on Tuesday.
— Ukrainian First Lady Olena Zelenska traveled to Washington at the invitation of US First Lady Jill Biden. Zelenska met with Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday, who assured her of American commitment to Ukraine, and praised her work with civilians dealing with trauma and other war damage. At the White House on Tuesday, Zelenska met Jill Biden, kissing and posing for photos before discussing how the United States is helping Ukrainians suffering mentally and emotionally from war.
Cara Anna contributed reporting from Kramatorsk.
Follow AP coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine