Ukraine rocket strike kills 52 Russian troops, as fighting continues in south

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  • Ukraine says it carried out a long-range rocket strike against Russian forces in the south of the country.
  • Kyiv says the strike killed 52 Russian troops.
  • Russia began its invasion in February.

Ukraine said on Tuesday it had carried out a long-range rocket strike against Russian forces and military equipment in southern Ukraine, territory it says it is planning to retake in a counter-offensive using hundreds of thousands of troops.

The strike hit an ammunition dump in the town of Nova Kakhovka in the Kherson region and killed 52 Russians, Ukraine's military said. It came after Washington supplied Ukraine with advanced HIMARS mobile artillery systems which Kyiv says its forces are using with ever greater efficiency.

A Russian-installed official in Kherson gave a different version of events. He said at least seven people had been killed and that civilians and civilian infrastructure had been hit.

Reuters could not independently verify the battlefield accounts.

The area Ukraine struck is one that Russia seized after launching on 24 February what Moscow called "a special military operation" in its fellow ex-Soviet neighbour and is of strategic importance with Black Sea access, a once thriving agricultural industry and a location just north of Russian-annexed Crimea.

Ukrainian government officials have spoken of efforts to marshal up to 1 million troops and of their aim to recapture southern parts of the country now under Russian control.

"Based on the results of our rocket and artillery units, the enemy lost 52 (people), an Msta-B howitzer, a mortar, and seven armoured and other vehicles, as well as an ammunition depot in Nova Kakhovka," Ukraine's southern military command said in statement.

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Unverified videos posted on social media showed smoke and sparks, followed by an immense fireball erupting into the night sky. Images released by Russian state media showed a wasteland covered in rubble and the remains of buildings.

An official from the Russian-installed local administration said that Ukraine had used HIMARS missiles and that they had destroyed warehouses containing saltpetre, a chemical compound which can be used to make fertilizer or gunpowder. A large explosion resulted.

The Ukrainian Defence Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the kind of weapon used.

Vladimir Leontyev, head of the Russia-installed Kakhovka District military-civilian administration, was cited by Russia's TASS news agency as saying that at least seven people had been killed in the attack and around 60 wounded.

"There are still many people under the rubble. The injured are being taken to the hospital, but many people are blocked in their apartments and houses," Leontyev was quoted by TASS as saying. He was also cited as saying that warehouses, shops, a pharmacy, gas stations and a church had been hit.

Counter

Russia has accused Ukraine of shelling its own people in territory where it has lost control. Ukraine says it evacuates as many people as possible from areas seized by Russian forces in what it and the West have cast as an attempted imperial-style land grab by Moscow.

Kyiv and the West say Russia's own strikes have been indiscriminate, killing civilians and levelling city districts.

Moscow denies targeting civilians but many Ukrainian population centres have been left in ruins as Europe's biggest conflict since World War Two grinds towards the five-month mark.

The UN human rights office said on Tuesday that 5 024 civilians had been killed in Ukraine since the invasion began, adding that the real toll was likely much higher.

Russia has tried to introduce the rouble in Kherson and is offering Russian passports to locals. Russian-installed officials say they also plan to hold a referendum on the region becoming part of Russia but have not yet set a date.

On Sunday, Ukraine's deputy prime minister urged civilians in Kherson to evacuate as Kyiv's armed forces were preparing a counter-attack.

"It's clear there will be fighting, there will be artillery shelling... and we therefore urge (people) to evacuate urgently," Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said on national television.

Ukraine is itself bracing for what it expects will be a massive new Russian offensive in the east of the country where Moscow says it is determined to take control of all of the industrial Donbas region.

Russian forces, which earlier this month completed the capture of Luhansk province in the Donbas, have for weeks been shelling parts of neighbouring Donetsk province.

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Regional Donetsk governor Pavlo Kyrylenko told a briefing there was a significant buildup of Russian troops, particularly in the Bakhmut and Siversky areas, and around Sloviansk and Kramatorsk.

The whole front line in the region was under constant shelling as Russian troops tried to break through but were being repelled, he said.

TASS reported separately that Russian and Russian-backed forces were encircling the town of Siversk.

Other locations in Ukraine were also under attack.

At least 12 people were wounded in shelling of the southern city of Mykolaiv overnight, the regional governor said, and the mayor of Kharkiv, Ukraine's second city located in the northeast, told Ukrainian TV it was under constant shelling.

"We don't stop for a minute preparing the defence of the city and the region," said Mayor Oleh Terekhov.


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