Moscow steps up assault in Ukraine’s south, eastern Donbas

People stand at the window of their apartment after a missile strike damaged a residential building, in Dobropillia, in the Donetsk region. PHOTO: REUTERS

KYIV (REUTERS) – Ukraine’s shelling killed and wounded its own civilians in the southern region of Kherson, Russia said on Sunday (May 1), while some civilians managed to leave a steel plant in besieged Mariupol.

US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, meanwhile, became the latest Western official to visit Kyiv in a show of support for Ukraine.

“We believe that we are visiting you to say thank you for your fight for freedom... Your fight is a fight for everyone. Our commitment is to be there for you until the fight is done,” Ms Pelosi said in a video shared by President Volodymyr Zelensky on Twitter.

Ms Pelosi, who was accompanied by several US lawmakers, said on Friday she hoped to pass a US$33 billion (S$46 billion) aid package for Ukraine that President Joe Biden has requested “as soon as possible”.

Russia’s defence ministry accused Ukraine’s forces of shelling a school, kindergarten and cemetery in the villages of Kyselivka and Shyroka Balka in the Kherson region, the Russian RIA news agency said on Sunday.

The ministry gave no further details.

There was no immediate response from Ukraine and Reuters could not independently verify the report.

Russian forces have captured the town of Kherson, giving them a foothold just 100km north of Russian-annexed Crimea, and have mostly occupied Mariupol, a strategic eastern port city on the Azov Sea.

Ukraine’s military said in a bulletin on Sunday that Russian forces were fighting to break beyond Kherson’s administrative borders and prepare the way for attacks on the cities of Mykolayiv and Kryvyi Rih.

In Mariupol, Russia declared victory on April 21 even as hundreds of holdout Ukrainian troops and civilians took shelter in the Azovstal steel works.

On Saturday, a Ukrainian fighter inside said that 20 women and children had made it out.

“We are getting civilians out of the rubble with ropes - it’s the elderly, women and children,” said the fighter, Sviatoslav Palamar, referring to wreckage within the sprawling plant.

Mr Palamar said Russia and Ukraine were respecting a local ceasefire and he hoped the evacuated civilians would be taken to the city of Zaporizhzhia to the northwest.

Neither Russia nor the United Nations, which has urged an evacuation deal, commented on the evacuations.

Smoke rises from the grounds of the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol on April 29, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

Moscow has turned its focus to Ukraine’s south and east after failing to capture Kyiv in the early weeks of the invasion it launched on Feb 24.

The war has flattened cities, killed thousands of civilians and forced more than 5 million to flee the country.

Moscow calls its actions a “special operation” to disarm Ukraine and rid it of anti-Russian nationalism fomented by the West. Ukraine and the West say Russia launched an unprovoked war of aggression.

Russia’s defence ministry said on Sunday it had struck at weapons supplied to Ukraine by the United States and European countries and destroyed a runway at a military airfield near the Ukrainian city of Odesa.

The ministry said it used high-precision Onyx missiles to strike the airfield, after Ukraine accused Russia of knocking out a newly-constructed runway at the main airport of Odesa.

Odesa regional governor Maksym Marchenko said Russia had used a Bastion missile, launched from Crimea.

Reuters could not immediately verify the reports.

Russia’s defence ministry also said its air defence systems had shot down two Ukrainian Su-24m bombers over the Kharkiv region overnight.

Ukraine’s military said the airfield could no longer be used and President Zelensky vowed to rebuild it, saying in a late-night video speech that “Odesa will never forget Russia’s behaviour towards it”.

Russian forces have targeted Odesa, Ukraine’s third-largest city, sporadically during the conflict. Eight people were killed in a strike there a week ago, Ukrainian officials said.

In the east, Moscow is pushing for complete control of the Donbas region, where Russian-backed separatists already controlled parts of Luhansk and Donetsk provinces before the invasion.

Mr Zelensky said in his speech that Russia was “gathering additional forces for new attacks against our military in the east of the country” and “trying to increase pressure in the Donbas”.

Despite weeks of peace talks, both sides looked to be as far apart as ever on Saturday.

Ukraine accuses Russian troops of carrying out atrocities in areas near Kyiv in early April, a claim denied by Moscow.

Negotiators last met face-to-face on March 29 and have since spoken by video link.

Ukrainian soldiers ride in the back of a truck to a place where they can rest after fighting on the front line, near Kramatorsk, eastern Ukraine, on April 30, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

In the town of Dobropillia in Donetsk the shockwave from a strike on Saturday blew in the windows of an apartment building and left a large crater in the yard.

Standing in his living room, a resident who gave only his first name, Andriy, said his partner was knocked unconscious.

“Thank God the four children were in the kitchen,” he said.

People sifted through belongings to salvage what they could.

At least one person died as a result of Russia’s strikes in Luhansk, regional governor Serhiy Gaidai, wrote in a social media post. He said Russia launched 19 attacks on residential areas in its cities and towns on Saturday.

Remote video URL

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.