A memorial wall in Kyiv displays images of Ukrainian soldiers killed since the Russian invasion – Copyright AFP –
Ukrainian artillery struck a key bridge in Moscow-controlled territory in southern Ukraine on Wednesday, damaging an important supply route as Kyiv forces seek to retake the Kherson region.
The strike on the Antonivskiy Bridge over the Dnipro River came hours before the opening in Istanbul of a joint observation center to monitor Ukrainian grain exports that were blocked by Kremlin warships.
German authorities said Russian energy giant Gazprom had drastically reduced gas deliveries to Europe via the Nord Stream pipeline to around 20% of capacity, after the European Union agreed on a plan aimed at reducing its use this winter.
Kirill Stremousov, the deputy head of the Russian-installed regional administration in Kherson, confirmed that the bridge was hit overnight and traffic was halted.
But he sought to minimize the damage, insisting the attack would “in no way” affect the outcome of hostilities.
“The special military operation continues,” Stremousov said in a video posted to social media, using the Kremlin’s preferred term for their invasion.
In recent weeks, Ukrainian forces have reclaimed territory in the Kherson region, which fell to Russian forces easily and soon after their invasion launched on February 24.
Their counter-offensive supported by long-range artillery provided by the West saw his forces close in on the city of Kherson, which had a pre-war population of less than 300,000.
– ‘Leave Kherson’ –
Ukrainian officials in the region said their forces in the Black Sea region had changed tactics from defensive to offensive and that Kherson would be “definitely” liberated by the end of September.
Russian forces “should leave Kherson while this is still possible. There may not be a third warning,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhaylo Podolyak said on Twitter after the attack.
Later Wednesday, the United Nations and Turkey are to open a joint center with Russia and Ukraine in Istanbul to coordinate the resumption of grain deliveries across the Black Sea.
The two sides agreed last week on a mechanism to release millions of tonnes of grain trapped in a Russian blockade of Ukrainian ports – a deal challenged by Russian strikes on the Ukrainian port of Odessa within 24 hours.
Kyiv insists it is still preparing for the departure of the first ships and said on Monday it hoped to restart exports “this week”.
The blockage of deliveries from two of the world’s largest grain exporters has contributed to a price spike that has made food imports prohibitive for some of the world’s poorest countries.
Erdogan wants Turkey – on good terms with Kyiv and Moscow – to be at the center of diplomatic efforts to end the five-month war.
Russian news agencies – citing the Moscow embassy in Ankara – said on Wednesday that a previously announced meeting between Erdogan and Russian leader Vladimir Putin would take place next Friday in Sochi, Russia’s Black Sea resort town.
– ‘Throwed in the barn’ –
As Ukrainian forces pressured Russian positions in the south, the eastern region of Donbass saw heavy fighting.
AFP journalists in Bakhmut, one of the last towns in Donbass under Ukrainian control, heard sporadic artillery fire and saw a house on the outskirts which had been hit by a Russian shell.
“I was in the barn and was about to go out. I heard a hiss. And I don’t remember anything. It exploded and I was thrown into the barn by a wave of explosion, Roman, 51, told AFP.
The head of the Donetsk region in the Donbass said on social media that Russian artillery hit a hotel and initial reports suggested the strikes left people dead and injured.
Compounding a war-triggered energy crisis in Europe, Germany’s energy regulator said gas flows through the key Nord Stream pipeline fell to 20% of capacity on Wednesday, from 40%.
EU states have dismissed Gazprom’s claims of technical problems and accuse the Kremlin of cutting supplies in retaliation for Western sanctions over Moscow’s war in Ukraine.
In response, the 27-nation bloc on Tuesday agreed to a plan to cut gas consumption by 15% this winter to break its dependence on Russia.