KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian forces pressured Russian positions in occupied Kherson, targeting supply routes across a major river while closing in on a full-scale assault on one of the first urban areas captured by Russia after invading the country.
As many as 2,000 Russian conscripts poured into the Kherson region – one of the four provinces illegally annexed by Moscow – “to make up for losses and reinforce units on the front line”, according to the army general staff. Ukrainian army.
The deputy head of the Kremlin-installed regional administration in Kherson, Kirill Stremousov, said the Ukrainian shelling of a Dnieper crossing killed four civilians on Thursday evening. Vadim Ilmiyev, the top health official, said 13 other people were injured in the attack.
Natalia Humeniuk, spokeswoman for the Southern Ukraine Operational Command, confirmed that the Antonivskyi Bridge was struck, but only after the start of a local curfew at 10 p.m. to prevent civilian casualties.
“We are not attacking civilians and settlements,” Humeniuk told Ukrainian television.
Stremousov said the attack happened about 40 minutes after the curfew began. Among the dead and injured were journalists from Russian television station Tamvria, he said.
Earlier Ukrainian strikes had rendered the bridge unusable, prompting Russian authorities to set up ferry crossings and pontoon bridges to transport supplies to Russian troops in Kherson, which is on the west bank of the Dnieper. The Ukrainian army has regularly targeted these crossing points with rockets.
Russian-installed officials have urged residents to evacuate the city of Kherson for their safety and allow the army to build fortifications. The Ukrainian army reported on Friday that bank workers, medical workers and teachers were being evacuated as the city’s infrastructure also began to deteriorate.
At least 15,000 of the expected 60,000 residents have already been displaced from the city and surrounding areas, the occupation authorities said.
The city of Kherson, with a pre-war population of around 284,000, was one of the first urban areas captured by Russia when it invaded Ukraine, and it remains the largest city that ‘she holds. It is a prime target for both sides due to its key industries and major river port.
The regions of Kherson, Luhansk, Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia were illegally annexed by Russian President Vladimir Putin last month, although not all of the territory is under Russian control. Putin declared martial law in the regions from Thursday in an apparent attempt to assert Russian authority amid a series of military setbacks and fierce international criticism.
In the Donetsk region, two people were killed in 24 hours after Russian forces shelled the city of Bakhmut, Pavlo Kyrylenko, the Ukrainian governor of the province. Russian troops have been unable to advance towards the city for over a month.
Some nine people were injured in two Russian attacks in the recently recovered capital of Kharkiv region in eastern Ukraine, according to Governor Oleh Syniehubov. In the city of Zaporizhzhia, a Russian S-300 missile strike on Friday injured three people and damaged a residential building, a school and infrastructure, Ukrainian authorities said.
“Each strike will scare no one. This will make us stronger,” said the acting administrative head of the Dniprovskyi district, Volodymyr Hrianysty.
In an apparent effort to prevent hostilities from spiraling out of control, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin contacted Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu on Friday and the two had their first phone call since May 13. Defense officials said that for some time the Russians did not respond to US efforts to establish calls.
During Friday’s call, Austin “stressed the importance of maintaining the lines of communication amid the ongoing war against Ukraine,” Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. General Pat Ryder, said.
Austin also spoke with Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov “to reiterate the United States’ unwavering commitment to supporting Ukraine’s ability to counter Russian aggression” as well as community support to the future defense of Ukraine, according to a press release from the Ministry of Defence.
Meanwhile, Russia’s deployment of planes and troops to airbases in Belarus has raised the specter of another front on Ukraine’s northern border, though officials have said such a move was unlikely.
The Ukrainian army general staff reported an increased likelihood that such an attack could be aimed at cutting off supply routes for Western weapons and equipment. The build-up could also be aimed at diverting Ukrainian resources and weakening any counter-offensive in the south.
Amid the fighting, the Kremlin insisted on Friday that Putin had been open to negotiations “from the very beginning” and that “nothing has changed” in this regard.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Putin ‘tried to start talks with NATO and the United States even before the special military operation’ – the Russian term for his war in Ukraine .
Peskov was speaking following earlier remarks by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who said the Russian leader appeared to be “much softer and more open to negotiations” with Ukraine than in the past.