Russia steps up strikes on Ukraine amid counterattacks

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KYIV, Ukraine – Russian forces on Thursday launched massive missile strikes on Ukraine’s Kyiv and Chernihiv regions, areas that had not been targeted for weeks, while Ukrainian officials announced an operation to liberate an occupied region in the south of the country.

Kyiv Regional Governor Oleksiy Kuleba said on Telegram that a settlement in the region’s Vyshgorod district was targeted early Thursday morning; an “infrastructure object” has been hit. It was not immediately clear if there were any casualties.

Vyshhgorod is located 20 kilometers (about 12 miles) north of downtown Kyiv. Kuleba linked the strikes to Statehood Day, which Ukraine marked for the first time on Thursday.

“Russia, with the help of missiles, is ramping up in revenge for the widespread popular resistance, which the Ukrainians were able to organize precisely because of their statehood,” Kuleba told Ukrainian television. “Ukraine has already violated Russia’s plans and will continue to defend itself.”

Chernihiv Governor Vyacheslav Chaus reported that several missiles were fired from the territory of Belarus at the village of Honcharivska.

Russian troops withdrew from Kyiv and Chernihiv regions months ago after failing to capture either. The resumption of strikes comes a day after the leader of pro-Kremlin separatists in the east, Denis Pushilin, publicly urged Russian forces to “liberate Russian cities founded by the Russian people – Kyiv, Chernihiv, Poltava, Odessa, Dnipropetrovsk, Kharkiv, Zaporizhzhia, Lutsk.

Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, was also shelled overnight, its mayor Ihor Terekhov said. The southern town of Mykolaiv also came under fire, and one person was injured.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian army continued to counterattack in the occupied southern region of Kherson, striking a key bridge over the Dnieper on Wednesday.

Ukrainian media quoted Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovich as saying on Thursday that the operation to liberate Kherson “has already begun”. Arestovich said Kyiv forces planned to isolate Russian troops there and leave them three options: “retreat, if possible, surrender or be destroyed.”

Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, said in a televised address on Wednesday that he was “cautious” in assessing the timing of a possible counteroffensive. “I really wish it was much faster,” he said, adding that “the enemy is now concentrating the maximum number (of forces) precisely in the direction of Kherson.”

“A very large-scale movement of their troops has begun, they are gathering additional forces,” Danilov warned.

The British army estimated Thursday that the counter-offensive of Ukraine in Kherson “is gaining momentum”.

“Their forces have most likely established a bridgehead south of the Ingulets River, which forms the northern border of Russian-occupied Kherson,” Britain’s Ministry of Defense said on Thursday.

He added that Ukraine used its new long-range artillery to damage at least three of the bridges over the Dnieper, “which Russia relies on to supply areas under its control.” The 1,000-metre-long Antonivsky Bridge, which Ukrainian forces hit on Wednesday, is likely to be “unusable”, the UK Ministry of Defense has concluded.

Ukraine’s presidential office said Thursday morning that Russian shelling of towns and villages over the past 24 hours had killed at least five civilians, all in the eastern region of Donetsk, and injured nine others.

Fighting in recent weeks has been concentrated in the Donetsk region. It has intensified in recent days as Russian forces appeared to be emerging from a reported “operational pause” after capturing the nearby Luhansk region.

A missile hit a residential building in Toretsk early Thursday morning, destroying two floors. “Once again the terror of the missiles. We will not give up… We will not be intimidated,” Donetsk regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said on Telegram.

Analysts from the Institute for the Study of War believe that Russian forces are focusing their efforts on capturing the towns of Bakhmut and Siversk in Donetsk province.

“Russian forces committed sufficient resources to conduct near-daily ground assaults and seize territory on these two axes, but were unable to maintain a similar offensive operational tempo or achieve similar territorial gains elsewhere. in Ukraine,” the institute said.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who instituted Statehood Day last year to remind Ukrainians of the country’s statehood history, said as he was marked for the first time that the event had acquired a new meaning.

“The state in which the story of invincibility began, which all of Europe and the whole world admires, is our state. Our country. This is Ukraine,” Zelenskyy said Thursday.

The commemoration – which is not a public holiday – honors Prince Vladimir, who made Christianity the official religion of Kyiv Rus’ more than 1,000 years ago.

The Kremlin also lays claim to the historical heritage of Kyivan Rus. In 2016, Russian President Vladimir Putin erected a monument to Prince Vladimir near the Kremlin.

Follow AP coverage of the Russian-Ukrainian War at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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