By HANNA ARHIROVA and CARA ANNA
VINNYTSIA, Ukraine (AP) — Russian missiles hit industrial facilities at a strategic city in southern Ukraine on Sunday as Moscow also pressed efforts to expand its gains in the country’s east.
Mykolaiv Mayor Oleksandr Senkevych said the missiles struck an industrial and infrastructure facility in the city, a key shipbuilding center in the estuary of the Southern Bug river. There was no immediate information about casualties.
Mykolaiv has faced regular Russian missile strikes in recent weeks as the Russians have sought to soften Ukrainian defenses.
The Russian military has declared a goal to cut off Ukraine’s entire Black Sea coast all the way to the Romanian border. If successful, such an effort would deal a crushing blow to the Ukrainian economy and trade, and allow Moscow to secure a land bridge to Moldova’s separatist region of Transnistria, which hosts a Russian military base.
Early in the campaign, Ukrainian forces fended off Russian attempts to capture Mykolaiv, which sits near the Black Sea coast between Russia-occupied Crimea and the main Ukrainian port of Odesa. Since then, Russian troops have halted their attempts to advance in the city but have continued to pummel both Mykolaiv and Odesa with regular missile strikes.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Lt. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Sunday that Russian missiles destroyed a depot for anti-ship Harpoon missiles delivered to Ukraine by NATO allies, a claim that couldn’t be independently confirmed.
The Russians, fearing a Ukrainian counteroffensive, also sought to reinforce their positions in the Kherson region near Crimea and in part of the northern Zaporizhzhia region that they seized in the opening stage of the war.
The British Defense Ministry said Sunday that Russia is moving troops and equipment between Kherson, Mariupol and Zaporizhzhia, and increasing security measures around Melitopol.
It added: “Given the pressures on Russian manpower, the reinforcement of the south whilst the fight for the Donbas continues indicates the seriousness with which Russian commanders view the threat.”
For now, the Russian military has focused on trying to take control of Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland of the Donbas, where the most capable and well-equipped Ukrainian forces are located.
Ukraine says its forces still retain control of two small villages in the Luhansk region, one of the two provinces that make up the Donbas, and are successfully fending off Russian attempts to advance deeper into the second one, the Donetsk region.
The Ukrainian military’s General Staff said Sunday that Ukrainian troops thwarted Russian attempts to advance toward Sloviansk, the key Ukrainian stronghold in Donetsk, and other attacks elsewhere in the region.
Yet Russian officials are urging their troops to produce even more territorial gains. During a visit to the front lines Saturday, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu issued an order “to further intensify the actions of units in all operational areas.”
The Russian military said it has struck Ukrainian troops and artillery positions in Donbas in the latest series of strikes, including a U.S.-supplied HIMARS multiple rocket launcher. The Russian claims couldn’t be independently verified.
Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy head of Russia’s Security Council chaired by President Vladimir Putin, responded to Ukrainian officials’ statements that Kyiv may strike the bridge linking Crimea and Russia, warning that that would trigger devastating consequences for the Ukrainian leadership.
“If that happens, the consequences will be obvious: They will momentarily face Doomsday,” Medvedev said Sunday. “It would be very hard for them to hide.”
Medvedev, who once was touted by the West as more liberal compared to Putin, said Russia will press its action in Ukraine until fulfilling its stated goal of “denazifying” and “demilitarizing” the country. He predicted that the continuing fighting will “undoubtedly lead to the collapse of the existing regime” in Kyiv.
While focusing on the Donbas, the Russians have hit areas all across the country with missile strikes.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged Ukrainians not to fall for Russia’s attempts to scare them with warnings of horrendous missile attacks to come, which he said were aimed at dividing Ukrainian society.
“It’s clear that no Russian missiles or artillery will be able to break our unity or lead us away from our path toward a democratic, independent Ukraine,” he said in his nightly video address to the nation. “And it is also clear that Ukrainian unity cannot be broken by lies or intimidation, fakes or conspiracy theories.”
On Sunday in central Ukraine, relatives and friends attended a funeral for Liza Dmytrieva, a 4-year-old girl killed Thursday in a Russian missile strike. The girl with Down syndrome was en route to see a speech therapist with her mother when the missiles struck the city of Vinnytsia. At least 24 people were killed, including Liza and two boys, ages 7 and 8. More than 200 others were wounded, including Liza’s mother, who remains in an intensive care unit.
“I didn’t know Liza, but no person can go through this with calm,” priest Vitalii Holoskevych said, bursting into tears as Liza’s body lay in a coffin with flowers and teddy bears in the 18th-century Transfiguration Cathedral in Vinnytsia.
‘’We know that evil cannot win,’ he added.
In the Kharkiv region, at least three civilians were killed and three more were injured Saturday in a pre-dawn Russian strike on the city of Chuhuiv, just 120 kilometers (75 miles) from the Russian border, police said.
Lyudmila Krekshina, who lives in the apartment building that was hit, said a husband and wife were killed as well as an elderly man who lived on the ground floor.
Another resident said she was lucky to have survived.
“I was going to run and hide in the bathroom. I didn’t make it and that’s what saved me,” said Valentina Bushuyeva. Pointing to her destroyed apartment, she said: “There’s the bathroom — explosion. Kitchen — half a room. And I survived because I stayed put.”
Anna reported from Pokrovsk, Ukraine.
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