Russia strikes Kyiv for first time in weeks as battle rages in east

By Natalia Zinets and Pavel Polityuk

KYIV (Reuters) – Russia struck Ukraine’s capital Kyiv early on Sunday with missiles for the first time in more than a month, while Ukrainian officials said a counterattack on the main battlefield at the east had taken over half of the city of Sievierodonetsk.

Black smoke could be seen several kilometers away after the attack on two outlying Kyiv neighborhoods. Ukraine said the strike hit a car repair shop, while Moscow said it destroyed tanks sent by Eastern European countries to Ukraine.

In Sievierodonetsk, where Russia has concentrated its forces in recent weeks, Ukraine launched a counterattack which it says took the Russians by surprise.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Sunday evening he visited troops in Lysychansk, a town a few kilometers south of Sievierodonetsk in the eastern province of Luhansk.

He also visited Soledar in neighboring Donetsk province. Russia seeks to capture both Luhansk and Donetsk, which make up the wider Donbass region, Ukraine’s industrial heartland.

“What you all deserve is victory – that’s the most important thing. But not at any cost,” Zelenskiy, wearing his khaki t-shirt, told Ukrainian troops in a video broadcast Sunday evening.

During the Kyiv attack, one person was hospitalized although no immediate deaths were reported.

The strike was a sudden reminder of war in a capital where normal life has largely returned since Russian forces were forced from its outskirts in March.

“The Kremlin is resorting to new insidious attacks. Today’s missile strikes on Kyiv have only one goal: to kill as many people as possible,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said in a message on Twitter.

Ukraine said Russia carried out the attack on Kyiv using long-range air-launched missiles fired from heavy bombers as far away as the Caspian Sea.

Ukraine’s nuclear operator said a Russian cruise missile flew past the country’s second-largest nuclear power plant.

Sunday’s attack was the first major strike on Kyiv since late April, when a missile killed a journalist. In recent weeks, Russia has concentrated its destructive power mainly on the eastern and southern front lines, although Moscow occasionally strikes elsewhere in what it calls a campaign to degrade Ukraine’s military infrastructure. and to block Western arms shipments.

UKRAINE CLAIMS HALF OF SIEVIERODONETSK

After retaking part of Sievierodonetsk, Ukrainian forces now controlled half of it and continued to push back the Russians, said Serhiy Gaidai, governor of Luhansk province, which includes the city.

“They will just try to level everything. They have no other tactic,” Gaidai said of the Russians.

The claims could not be independently verified. Both sides say they have inflicted huge casualties on Sievierodonetsk, in a battle that could determine which side will carry the momentum in a protracted war of attrition in the months to come.

In another sign that Ukraine has held back the Russian advance, Gaidai said evacuations resumed on Sunday from the Ukrainian part of Lugansk province and 98 people escaped. Russian forces have been trying for weeks to cut off the main road to surround Ukrainian troops there, and evacuations were halted last week after a journalist was killed by shelling.

A Russian state media reporter said on Sunday that Russian Major General Roman Kutuzov had been killed in eastern Ukraine, adding to Moscow’s string of high-ranking military casualties.

Ukraine’s military reported that its forces repelled seven attacks in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions on Sunday, destroying four tanks and downing a helicopter gunship.

In Donetsk, Russian forces have in recent days advanced into territory north of the Siverskiy Donets River, ahead of what Ukraine anticipates could be a push on the major city of Sloviansk.

Britain’s Ministry of Defense said on Sunday that Ukrainian counterattacks in Sievierodonetsk in the past 24 hours were likely to blunt any operational momentum Russia has gained. Moscow was deploying ill-equipped separatist fighters to the city to limit the risk to its regular forces, he said.

Britain has announced it will supply Ukraine with multiple-launch rocket systems that can hit targets up to 80 km (50 miles) away.

In a speech in Rome on Sunday, Pope Francis noted that more than 100 days had passed since “the beginning of armed aggression against Ukraine”, and called the war a “negation of God’s dream”. .

Putin downplays new US rockets

The United States announced last week that it would send new advanced medium-range rocket systems to Ukraine, which it hopes will help tip the balance in the conflict.

Washington has ruled out sending longer-range munitions and says Kyiv has promised not to strike inside Russia.

In an interview with Russian state television, President Vladimir Putin played down the impact of the new rockets, although he warned Washington not to send longer ones.

The rockets Washington had promised so far were comparable to Soviet-era weapons Ukraine already possessed, Putin said.

“It’s not new. It basically doesn’t change anything,” Putin said. If Washington were to deliver longer-range rockets, “we’ll hit the targets we haven’t hit yet,” he said. He also dismissed the impact of Western drones, saying Russia had “cracked them like nuts”.

(Reporting by Natalia Zinets, Pavel Polityuk, Lidia Kelly and Ronald Popeski; Writing by Raju Gopalakrishnan, Peter Graff and Lawrence Hurley; Editing by William Mallard, Mark Heinrich, Frances Kerry, Diane Craft and Himani Sarkar)

Christi C. Elwood