Russia launches rocket fire as it slowly moves forward in eastern Ukraine

Russian troops shelled Ukraine from the skies over Belarus to the north and the waters of the Black Sea to the south in one of the largest and most coordinated air raids in recent weeks, according to Ukrainian officials.

As Russia bombarded civilian and military infrastructure from the air, heavy fighting raged on the eastern front, with Russian troops seeking to cut off supply lines for thousands of Ukrainian soldiers.

The Ukrainian military said Russian warplanes attacked Ukrainian positions near the eastern city of Lysychansk, the last urban stronghold still under Ukrainian control in eastern Luhansk region, while Russian forces attempted to encircle the city.

In the devastated sister city of Severodonetsk, Mayor Oleksandr Stryuk said on Saturday that Russian troops had taken full command following the Ukrainian military’s withdrawal on Friday.

The missile strikes came just hours before Russian President Vladimir Putin promised President of Belarus Alexander Grigoryevich Lukashenko on missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads at a meeting in St. Petersburg. Petersburg.

Belarusian forces are also once again conducting military exercises near the border with the Kyiv region, escalating tensions and putting the Ukrainian authorities on high alert.

The military intelligence of Ukraine called the Russian attack “a large-scale provocation by Russia with the aim of further drawing Belarus into the war against Ukraine.” Western military analysts say Belarus is unlikely to join Russia’s war effort. Lukashenka’s retention of power depends on the support of the Kremlin, which limits his room for political manoeuvre.

On Saturday, President Biden traveled to Germany, where he will join the leaders of the world’s richest democracies, known as the Group of 7, to bolster the West’s resolve to stand by Ukraine in the face of the growing economic toll the war is taking on their peoples. .

Even though Ukraine is experiencing perhaps the most difficult moment on the battlefield since the first weeks of the war, the commander of its armed forces is a general. Valery Zaluzhny, released cool shot video to celebrate the first use of advanced multiple launch rocket systems from the United States on the battlefield. According to him, these weapons were used to destroy “enemy military facilities on our Ukrainian territory.”

But the Russian missile strikes were a stark reminder of the vast destructive power of the arsenal at Moscow’s disposal, which was aimed at both military targets and indiscriminate strikes against cities and towns.

The mayor of the militant southern port city of Nikolaev, which has been attacked by Russian troops since the beginning of the war, urged “everyone who wants to survive” to leave, because it is not known when all this will end. ”

In an interview with Radio Liberty, he said that the city is shelled on a daily basis, and that “about 80 percent of these munitions are cluster munitions” fired from Russian multiple launch rocket systems.

Already about half of the pre-war population of Nikolaev, which amounted to 480,000 people, fled. There are many older people among those who remain, and about 80 percent of them survive on food and clothing distributed by humanitarian organizations.

Russian strikes on Saturday also hit parts of the country that have been relatively quiet in recent weeks. Even in the western and northern regions, where air raids have become more sporadic, they sounded many times in less than 48 hours, signaling that missiles were fired within range.

Dozens of missile strikes were carried out by Russian jets in Belarusian airspace overnight, according to the Belarusian monitoring group “Belarusian Guyun”, which has been studying Russian actions in detail since the beginning of the war.

Ukrainian military intelligence reported that six Russian Tu-22M3 strike bombers took off from the Shaykovka airfield in the Kaluga region of Russia over Smolensk, after which they entered Belarusian airspace. When they were about 30 miles from the border with Ukraine, they fired at least 12 cruise missiles before returning to Russian airspace, according to the agency. According to the military, the missiles hit targets in the Kyiv, Chernihiv and Sumy regions.

Local Ukrainian officials have reported new rockets they say were fired from Belarus, including a volley of 24 rockets that hit the outskirts of Zhytomyr, a city about 80 miles west of Kyiv.

Casualties from night strikes across the country were not immediately clear, and Ukrainians rarely reveal details about strikes against military targets. But Vitaliy Bunechko, governor of the Zhytomyr region, said at least one serviceman had died and another was wounded.

In the Chernihiv region east of Kyiv, regional governor Vyacheslav Chaus said a “massive missile strike” from Belarus had destroyed infrastructure in the village of Desna, which also houses a Ukrainian military facility.

The Ukrainians said their air defenses shot down two missiles in a salvo of six fired from navy ships in the Black Sea, while the other four hit a “military facility” in the Yavoriv area, where a military training base is located in the Lviv region. . Four people were injured, said the governor of the region Maxim Kozitsky.

The Yavoriv region has been attacked several times since the beginning of the war, including a major attack in March that killed and injured dozens.

The attacks came as Ukraine is on high alert as the Belarusian Armed Forces are conducting “mobilization” exercises near Ukraine’s northern border. The exercises threaten to escalate tensions in an already volatile region and prompted Ukraine to put its border guards on high alert.

In the early stages of the war, Belarus allowed Mr. Putin to use its territory to conduct Operation Shock and Awe by Russian forces in an attempt to capture Kyiv. The plan failed, but now that Russia is bogged down in a grueling war of attrition in eastern Ukraine, Moscow stands to benefit from any help from Mr. Trump. Lukashenka could provide.

On Saturday, Mr. Putin met with M. Lukashenko in Art. St. Petersburg, promising to supply the Iskander-M missile system – with a range of about 300 miles and capable of carrying both conventional and nuclear warheads – within months. The Russian leader also promised to modernize the Belarusian Su-25 fighters. Lukashenko asked the Russian leader to make his warplanes capable of carrying nuclear weapons.

“We must be ready for anything, even the use of serious weapons, to protect our Motherland from Brest to Vladivostok,” he said. Lukashenka said referring to Belarus’ westernmost city and Russian port in the Far East.

Ukrainian officials and Western observers say it is unlikely that Belarus, a former Soviet republic 9.4 million people, directly enter the war at this time, given the risks of provoking social unrest at home and undermine mr. Lukashenka is in power. Still, analysts say M. Lukashenko, the autocrat who remains in the Kremlin, is desperate to show his worth to Mr. Putin. Insert.

And some analysts believe that pressure from Mr. Trump is only a matter of time. Putin is forcing Mr. Lukashenko to act more directly in the war, which puts him in an existential dilemma. Joining the conflict could undermine his support at home, but if he doesn’t, Mr Putin could retaliate by taking steps to force him to step down.

Roger Cohen made a report.