Russia attacks Kyiv region for 1st time in weeks
Ukrainian counteroffensive has virtually cut off Russian-occupied Kherson, U.K. says
Russian forces launched a missile attack on the Kyiv area for the first time in weeks Thursday and pounded the northern Chernihiv region as well, in what Ukraine said was revenge for standing up to the Kremlin.
Russia attacked the Kyiv region with six missiles launched from the Black Sea, hitting a military unit in the village of Liutizh on the outskirts of the capital, according to Oleksii Hromov, a senior Ukrainian official.
He said the attack ruined one building and damaged two others, and that Ukrainian forces shot down one of the missiles in the town of Bucha.
Fifteen people were wounded in the Russian strikes, five of them civilians, Kyiv regional Gov. Oleksiy Kuleba said.
Day of Statehood
Kuleba linked the assaults to the Day of Statehood, a commemoration that President Volodymyr Zelenskyy instituted last year and Ukraine marked for the first time Thursday.
"Russia, with the help of missiles, is mounting 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 broken Russia's plans and will continue to defend itself."
Chernihiv regional Gov. Vyacheslav Chaus reported that the Russians also fired missiles from the territory of Belarus at the village of Honcharivska. The Chernihiv region had not been targeted in weeks.
Russian troops withdrew from the Kyiv and Chernihiv regions months ago after failing to capture either.
The renewed strikes come a day after the leader of pro-Kremlin separatists in the east, Denis Pushilin, urged Russian forces to "liberate Russian cities founded by the Russian people — Kyiv, Chernihiv, Poltava, Odesa, Dnipropetrovsk, Kharkiv, Zaporizhzhia, Lutsk."
Counterattack leaves Russian troops 'vulnerable': U.K. officials
A Ukrainian counteroffensive has virtually cut off the Russian-occupied southern city of Kherson and left thousands of Russian troops stationed near the Dnipro River "highly vulnerable," British defence and intelligence officials said on Thursday.
Ukraine has made clear it intends to recapture Kherson, which fell to Russia in the early days of the invasion launched by Russian President Vladimir Putin on Feb 24.
Britain's Defence Ministry said Ukrainian forces have probably established a bridgehead south of the Ingulets River, and had used new, long-range artillery to damage at least three of the bridges crossing the Dnipro.
"Russia's 49th Army, stationed on the west bank of the Dnipro River, now looks highly vulnerable," it said in a regular intelligence bulletin on Twitter, adding that Kherson was virtually cut off from the other territories occupied by Russia.
"Its loss would severely undermine Russia's attempts to paint the occupation as a success."
Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine's National Security and Defence Council, earlier tweeted that Russia was concentrating "the maximum number of troops" in the direction of the Kherson but gave no details.
'Massive redeployment' of Russian forces
Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said Russia was conducting a "massive redeployment" of forces from the east to the south in what amounted to a strategic shift from attack to defence.
Video footage from last Saturday showed the extent of damage to the key Antonivskyi bridge in the Kherson region following Ukrainian shelling on July 20.
Zelenskyy said Ukraine would rebuild the bridge over the Dnipro and other crossings in the region.
"We are doing everything to ensure that the occupying forces do not have any logistical opportunities in our country," he said in a Wednesday evening address.
Russian officials had earlier said they would turn instead to pontoon bridges and ferries to get forces across the river.
Russian-backed forces on Wednesday said they had captured the Soviet-era coal-fired Vuhlehirsk power plant, Ukraine's second-largest, in what was Moscow's first significant gain in more than three weeks.
U.S. effort at diplomacy
Russia invaded Ukraine in late February in what Moscow calls a "special military operation" to demilitarize and "denazify" its neighbour. Ukraine and its allies call the invasion an unprovoked war of aggression.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he planned a phone conversation with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, the first between the two government officials since before the start of the war.
The call in the coming days would not be "a negotiation about Ukraine," Blinken said at a news conference on Wednesday, restating Washington's position that any talks on ending the war must be between Kyiv and Moscow.
Russia has received no formal request from Washington about a phone call between Blinken and Lavrov, TASS news agency reported.
The United States has made "a substantial offer" to Russia for it to release U.S. citizens WNBA star Brittney Griner and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, Blinken said, without giving details of what the United States was offering in return.
Blinken said he would press Lavrov to respond to the offer.
A source familiar with the situation confirmed a CNN report that Washington was willing to exchange Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout, who is serving a 25-year prison sentence in the United States, as part of a deal.
Aside from discussing Americans detained by Russia, Blinken said he would raise with Lavrov the tentative deal on grain exports reached last week between Russia, the United States, Turkey and Ukraine.
Russia reduced gas flows to Europe on Wednesday in an energy standoff with the European Union. It has blocked grain exports from Ukraine since invading, but on Friday it agreed to allow deliveries through the Black Sea to Turkey's Bosphorus Strait and on to global markets.
The deal was almost immediately thrown into doubt when Russia fired cruise missiles at Odesa, Ukraine's largest port, on Saturday, just 12 hours after the deal was signed.
Before the invasion and subsequent sanctions, Russia and Ukraine accounted for nearly a third of global wheat exports.
Russian journalist fined again
In Moscow, former Russian TV journalist Marina Ovsyannikova was fined 50,000 rubles ($1,050 Cdn) on Thursday after being found guilty of discrediting the country's armed forces in social media posts condemning Russia's actions in Ukraine.
The ruling was passed after a short hearing in a Moscow administrative court. Ovsyannikova rejected the proceedings against her as "absurd."
"The evidence confirms Ovsyannikova's guilt. There is no reason to doubt its authenticity," the judge said.
Ovsyannikova gained international attention in March after bursting into a studio of Russian state TV, her then employer, to denounce the Ukraine war during a live news bulletin. At the time she was fined 30,000 rubles ($600 Cdn) for flouting protest laws.
Thursday's hearing was over subsequent social media posts in which she wrote that those responsible for Russia's actions in Ukraine would find themselves in the dock before an international tribunal.
Russia passed a law against "discrediting" the armed forces, with a sentence of up to 15 years, in early March, soon after the invasion of Ukraine began.