Ukrainian and British officials warned Saturday that Russian forces are relying on weapons able to cause mass casualties as they try to make headway in capturing eastern Ukraine and fierce, prolonged fighting depletes resources on both sides.
Russian bombers have likely been launching heavy 1960s-era anti-ship missiles in Ukraine, the U.K. Defense Ministry said. The Kh-22 missiles were primarily designed to destroy aircraft carriers using a nuclear warhead. When used in ground attacks with conventional warheads, they “are highly inaccurate and therefore can cause severe collateral damage and casualties,” the ministry said.
Both sides have expended large amounts of weaponry in what has become a grinding war of attrition for the eastern region of coal mines and factories known as the Donbas, placing huge strains on their resources and stockpiles.
Russia is likely using the 5.5-tonne (6.1-ton) anti-ship missiles because it is running short of more precise modern missiles, the British ministry said. It gave no details of where exactly such missiles are thought to have been deployed.
As Russia also sought to consolidate its hold over territory seized so far in the 108-day war, the U.S. defense secretary said Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine “is what happens when oppressors trample the rules that protect us all.”
“It’s what happens when big powers decide that their imperial appetites matter more than the rights of their peaceful neighbors,” Lloyd Austin said during a visit to Asia. “And it’s a preview of a possible world of chaos and turmoil that none of us would want to live in.”
GOVERNOR: FLAMETHROWERS USED IN LUHANSK
A Ukrainian governor accused Russia of using incendiary weapons in a village in the eastern province of Luhansk, southwest of the fiercely contested cities of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk.
While the use of flamethrowers on the battlefield is legal, Luhansk Gov. Serhii Haidai alleged the overnight attacks in Vrubivka caused widespread damage to civilian facilities and an unknown number of victims.
“At night, the enemy used a flamethrower rocket system — many houses burnt down,” Haidai wrote on Telegram on Saturday. His claim could not be immediately verified.
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Sievierodonetsk and neighboring Lysychansk are the last major areas of Luhansk remaining under Ukrainian control. Haidai said Russian forces destroyed railway depots, a brick factory and a glass factory.
The Ukrainian army said Saturday that Russian forces also were to launch an offensive on the city of Sloviansk in Donetsk province, which together with Luhansk makes up the Donbas,
Moscow-backed rebels have controlled self-proclaimed republics in both provinces since 2014.
ZELENSKYY SEEKS MORE EU SANCTIONS ON RUSSIA
During a visit to Kyiv by the European Union’s top official, Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskyy called for a new round of “even stronger” EU sanctions against Russia.
Zelenskyy called for them to target more Russian officials, including judges, and to hamper the activities of all Russian banks, including that of gas giant Gazprom, as well as all Russian companies helping Moscow “in any way.”
He spoke during a brief appearance with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen at the heavily guarded presidential office compound in Ukraine’s capital.
The pair discussed Ukraine’s aspirations for EU membership. Zelenskyy, speaking through a translator, said Ukraine “will do everything” to integrate with the bloc.
“Russia wants to divide Europe, wants to weaken Europe,” he said.
Von der Leyen said the EU’s executive arm was “working day and night” on an assessment of Ukraine’s eligibility as a candidate. The goal is to share it with existing members next week.
Zelenskyy and some EU supporters want Ukraine admitted quickly.
Von der Leyen described the membership process as “a merit-based path” and appealed for Ukraine to strengthen its rule of law, fight corruption and modernize its institutions. She said the EU would assist with the country’s reconstruction.
UKRAINE PRESIDENT ADDRESSES NATION
Zelenskyy said later, in his nightly video address, that fierce street battles were continuing in Sievierodonetsk and he was proud of the Ukrainian defenders who for weeks have held back the Russian advance.
“Remember how in Russia, in the beginning of May, they hoped to seize all of the Donbas?” the president said. “It’s already the 108th day of the war, already June. Donbas is holding.”
Zelenskyy said Russian forces are being pushed out of parts of the Kherson region they occupied early in the war. He also reported some success in the Zaporizhzhia region.
He added that no one knows how long the war will last, but Ukraine should do everything it can so the Russians “regret everything that they have done and that they answer for every killing and every strike on our beautiful state.”
BATTLE AT A CHEMICAL PLANT
Hundreds of Ukrainian troops remained blockaded inside a chemical plant on the outskirts of Sievierodonetsk, but some of the civilians with them have started to come out, an envoy for Russian-backed separatists said Saturday.
Several hundred civilians could still be inside the Azot plant, where they sought safety from the shelling in underground shelters, Rodion Miroshnik said via Telegram.
As the circle around the Ukrainian troops tightens, he said, the civilians will be able to leave and Russian forces “are preparing transportation for their evacuation.” The troops will be allowed to leave only if they lay down their arms and surrender, he added.
Luhansk Gov. Haidai said the Russians shelled the plant “for hours” and a big fire broke out. He made no mention of the troops or civilians referenced by Miroshnik.
EXPLOSION IN THE WEST
In the western Ternopil province, which has largely been spared from the fighting, an explosion rocked the town of Chortkiv late Friday, the governor said.
There was no immediate information about the cause of the explosion, and Gov. Volodymyr Trush told residents not to take pictures or comment on social media.
He said local officials decided to turn off supplies of natural gas while dealing with the consequences of the explosion.
RUSSIA SETS UP COMPANY TO SELL UKRAINE’S GRAIN
Russian-installed officials in Ukraine’s southern Zaporizhzhia region have set up a company to buy up local grain and resell it on Moscow’s behalf, a local representative told the Interfax news agency on Saturday.
Yevgeny Balitsky, the head of Zaporizhzhia’s pro-Russian provisional administration, said the new state-owned grain company has taken control of several facilities.
He said “the grain will be Russian” and “we don’t care who the buyer will be.”
It was not clear if the farmers whose grain was being sold by Russia were getting paid. Balitsky said his administration would not forcibly appropriate grain or pressure producers to sell it.
Ukraine and the West have accused Russia of stealing Ukraine’s grain and causing a global food crisis that could cause millions of deaths from hunger.
The head of Ukraine’s presidential office accused Russia’s military of shelling and burning grain fields ahead of the harvest. Andriy Yermak alleged Moscow is “trying to repeat” a Soviet-era famine that claimed the lives of over 3 million Ukrainians in 1932-33.
“Our soldiers are putting out the fires, but (Russia’s) ‘food terrorism’ must be stopped,” Yermak wrote Saturday on Telegram.
His and Balitsky’s claims could not be independently verified.
RUSSIAN PASSPORTS FOR UKRAINE RESIDENTS
Russian forces occupying parts of southern Ukraine began handing out Russian passports to local residents Saturday.
In the Kherson region, 23 residents accepted the documents, including the new Moscow-installed governor, Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported.
“For me this is a truly historic moment. I have always thought that we are one country and one people,” the news agency quoted Gov. Volodymyr Saldo as saying.
Soldiers also started giving out passports in the occupied city of Melitopol, according to Russian state news agency Tass, which cited a Russian-installed local official as the source of the information. It did not specify how many residents had requested or received Russian citizenship.
Melitopol is located outside of the Donbas in the Zaporizhzhia region.
CHILD DEATH TOLL
Nearly 800 children have been killed or wounded in Ukraine since the beginning of Russia’s invasion, Ukrainian authorities said Saturday.
According to a statement by the Office of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine, at least 287 died as a result of military activity, while at least 492 more have been hurt. The statement stressed the figures were not final.
The office said children in Donetsk province have suffered the most, with 217 reported killed or wounded, compared with 132 and 116, respectively, in the Kharkiv and Kyiv regions.