Ukraine hits key bridge in Kherson region, as Russia signals wider scope of war
Russian foreign minister says country's objectives in Ukraine now go beyond Donbas
Ukrainian forces on Wednesday damaged a bridge that is key to supplying Russian troops in southern Ukraine, where Russia's foreign minister said Moscow is trying to consolidate its territorial gains.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told state-controlled RT television and the RIA Novosti news agency that Russia plans to retain control over broader areas beyond Eastern Ukraine, including the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions in the south, and will make more gains elsewhere.
Lavrov's remarks and the Ukrainian missile attack on the strategically important Kherson region bridge indicate the nearly five-month long war would likely broaden again after unfolding mostly in Eastern Ukraine since April.
Russia's top diplomat, Lavrov, noted that in March when Russia and Ukraine discussed a possible deal to end the fighting, "our readiness to accept the Ukrainian proposal was based on the geography of March 2022."
Repeating Moscow's earlier claims that the United States and Britain were encouraging Ukraine to expand the hostilities, Lavrov said, "Now it's a different geography."
Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24 and quickly seized some territory, but withdrew from the capital region and the north at the end of March to concentrate on seizing Donetsk and Luhansk, where pro-Moscow separatists have partly controlled since 2014.
Moscow has not provided frequent updates on its losses, but CIA Director William Burns said Wednesday that the U.S. intelligence community believes about 15,000 Russian soldiers have been killed — and perhaps three times that figure have been wounded — since the start of the invasion.
Bridge strike part of Ukrainian pushback
As Russian forces captured more ground in the two provinces, which together make up Ukraine's industrial Donbas region, Ukrainian officials mentioned plans for a counter-offensive to retake Russian-occupied areas in the south.
The Ukrainian strike on the Dnipro River bridge, the second in as many days, appeared to be intended to loosen Russia's grip on the southern Kherson region.
Kirill Stremousov, deputy head of a temporary, Russian-installed administration running the region, said the Ukrainian military struck the Antonivskyi Bridge, using U.S.-supplied High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS).
The bridge is the main river crossing in the Kherson region, and the Russian military uses it to supply its forces.
Stremousov said that because of the bridge damage, pontoon crossings would be constructed over the river.
The head of the Moscow-appointed Kherson administration, Vladimir Saldo, said cars could continue driving across the bridge but trucks couldn't and instead could use a dam 80 kilometres away.
Russia holds its gains
Early in the invasion, Russian troops quickly overran the Kherson region just north of the Crimean Peninsula that Russia annexed in 2014. They have faced Ukrainian counter-attacks, but have largely held their ground.
Kherson — site of a major ship-building industry at the confluence of the Dnipro River and the Black Sea near Russian-annexed Crimea — is one of several areas a U.S. government spokesman said Russia is trying to take over.
White House national security council spokesperson John Kirby said Tuesday that U.S. intelligence officials have evidence that Russia will try to annex Kherson, Zaporizhzhia and all of the Donbas through referendums, as soon as September.
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In Zaporizhzhia, Russian-installed authorities claimed Wednesday that Ukraine's military had used drones to attack the local nuclear power plant, Europe's largest.
Vladimir Rogov, a local Moscow-appointed official, said three Ukrainian attack drones had hit the plant's territory with explosives but not its reactor area. All normal operations continued and no release of radiation was detected, he said.
Russia's state news agency Tass reported 11 plant workers were injured, four seriously. The news agency later quoted a Russian military official who said the attack had occurred Monday.
Ukrainian authorities, who have over the past months reported Russian missiles almost hitting the plant, did not immediately comment on the report.
More civilians killed
The bulk of Russia's forces are stuck fighting in the Donbas region, where they have made slow gains facing fierce Ukrainian resistance. The Russian military has used long-range missiles to strike targets across all parts of Ukraine, killing hundreds of civilians.
Ukraine's presidential office said at least 13 civilians were killed and 40 wounded in Russian shelling across the country in a 24-hour period between Tuesday and Wednesday.
On Wednesday, at least three more people died when Russia bombarded the northeastern city of Kharkiv with Hurricane salvo rocket systems. The victims, who were waiting at a bus stop, included a 69-year-old man, his wife and a 13-year-old boy.
The boy's 15-year-old sister was injured, according to the Kharkiv Regional Prosecutor's Office. Video showed the boy's father, apparently in a state of shock, praying above his son's uncovered body and holding his hand.
Russia has repeatedly accused Ukraine of launching cross-border attacks. Another such report came Wednesday, when Belgorod Gov. Vyacheslav Gladkov said on Telegram that Ukrainian forces had fired on two Russian border villages.
Most villagers were previously evacuated under a state of emergency, but Gladkov said the latest attack killed a man, and damaged homes and a village club.
With a report from Reuters