Belarus leader accuses Ukraine of attempted missile attack

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said on Saturday Ukraine had tried to strike military facilities on Belarusian territory three days ago, but all its missiles had been intercepted, the state-run Belta news agency reported.

Alexander Lukashenko says missiles targeting military facilities were intercepted

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko attends a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi, Russia, on May 23. (Ramil Sitdikov/Sputnik/Kremlin/Reuters)

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said on Saturday Ukraine had tried to strike military facilities on Belarusian territory three days ago, but all its missiles had been intercepted, the state-run Belta news agency reported.

Lukashenko, who did not provide evidence for the claim, said Belarus did not want war with Ukraine, but would fight if its own territory was invaded.

The Ukrainian military did not immediately comment.

"They are provoking us. I have to tell you, three days ago, maybe a bit more, an attempt to strike military facilities on Belarusian territory was made from the territory of Ukraine," Belta quoted Lukashenko as saying.

"But, thank God, the Pantsir anti-aircraft systems managed to intercept all the missiles launched by Ukrainian armed forces."

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Lukashenko said there were no troops from Belarus fighting in what Moscow calls its "special military operation" in Ukraine.

Belarus is a close ally of Russia and allowed Moscow to use Belarusian territory to send troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24.

Last week, just hours before Lukashenko was to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russian long-range bombers fired missiles on Ukraine from Belarusian airspace for the first time.

Lukashenko has so far resisted efforts to draw his army into the war. But during their meeting, Putin announced that Russia planned to supply Belarus with the Iskander-M missile system and reminded Lukashenko of how dependent his government is on economic support from Russia.

Massive blasts in Odesa

In a separate development, blasts shook Ukraine's southern city of Mykolaiv on Saturday as Russia's artillery helped grind out gains in the east, after a week when the civilian death toll from Russian missile strikes climbed in urban centres well behind the frontline.

"There are powerful explosions in the city! Stay in shelters!" Oleksandr Senkevych, mayor of the Mykolaiv region which borders the vital Black Sea port of Odesa, wrote on the Telegram messaging app as air raid sirens sounded.

The cause of the blasts was not immediately clear, although Russia later said it had hit army command posts in the area. Reuters could not independently verify the reports.

The blasts come a day after a Russian airstrike struck an apartment building in the small coastal town of Serhiivka, located about 50 kilometres southwest of Odesa, killing 21 people.

A damaged residential building is seen in the southern Ukrainian town of Serhiivka, located about 50 kilometres southwest of Odesa, on Saturday. (Maxim Penko/The Associated Press)

Ukrainian prosecutor-general Iryna Venediktova said investigators were recovering fragments and were taking measurements to determine the trajectory of the weapons and "the specific people guilty of this terrible war crime."

Kyiv says Moscow has intensified missile attacks on cities far from the main battlefields in Ukraine's East and that it deliberately hit civilian sites. Ukrainian troops on the eastern frontlines meanwhile describe intense artillery barrages that have pummeled residential areas.

Russia says it has targeted military sites and denies aiming at civilians. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said "Russian Armed Forces do not work with civilian targets."

Separatists claim Lysychansk encircled

Moscow has narrowed its focus in Ukraine to capturing the eastern Donbas region after its broader war goals of taking Kyiv and toppling the government was thwarted by stiff resistance.

Russia is seeking to drive Ukrainian forces out of Luhansk and Donetsk provinces, which make up the Donbas and where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Kyiv since 2014.

In Luhansk, Russian forces pounded the city of Lysychansk and its surroundings in an all-out attempt to seize the province's last stronghold of Ukrainian resistance.

Andrei Marochko, an officer of the pro-Russian Luhansk People's Militia, was quoted by Russia's TASS news agency as saying that the militia's red hammer-and-sickle flag was now flying over the administrative building in Lysychansk, although Ukraine's military rejected claims that the city was encircled.

WATCH | Russian-backed separatists claim Lysychansk surrounded: 

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Ukrainian media quoted Vadym Denysenko, an adviser to Ukraine's Interior Ministry, as saying that the Russian claims to have surrounded Lysychansk were a lie aimed at demoralizing Ukrainians and encouraging pro-Russian forces.

Russian media showed videos of Luhansk militia members parading in the streets of Lysychansk waving flags and cheering, but Ukraine National Guard spokesperson Ruslan Muzychuk told Ukrainian national television the city remained in Ukrainian hands.

In Slovyansk, a major Donetsk city still under Ukrainian control, four people died when Russian forces fired cluster munitions late Friday, Mayor Vadym Lyakh said on Facebook. He said the neighbourhoods that were hit didn't contain any potential military targets.

Despite being battered in the east, Ukrainian forces have made some advances elsewhere, including forcing Russia to withdraw from Snake Island, a Black Sea outcrop southeast of Odesa that Moscow captured at the start of the war.

Russia had used Snake Island to impose a blockade on Ukraine, one of the world's biggest grain exporters and a major producer of seed for vegetable oils. The disruptions have helped fuel a surge in global grain and food prices.

Ukraine has appealed for more weapons from the West, saying its forces are heavily outgunned by the Russian military.

With files from The Associated Press