Ukrainian and British officials warned Saturday that Russian forces are relying on weapons able to cause mass casualties as they try to make headway in capturing eastern Ukraine and fierce, prolonged fighting depletes resources on both sides.
Russian bombers have likely been launching heavy 1960s-era anti-ship missiles in Ukraine, the U.K. Defense Ministry said. The Kh-22 missiles were primarily designed to destroy aircraft carriers using a nuclear warhead. When used in ground attacks with conventional warheads, they “are highly inaccurate and therefore can cause severe collateral damage and casualties,” the ministry said.
Both sides have expended large amounts of weaponry in what has become a grinding war of attrition for the eastern region of coal mines and factories known as the Donbas, placing huge strains on their resources and stockpiles.
Russia is likely using the 5.5-tonne (6.1-ton) anti-ship missiles because it is running short of more precise modern missiles, the British ministry said. It gave no details of where exactly such missiles are thought to have been deployed.
As Russia also sought to consolidate its hold over territory seized so far in the 108-day war, the U.S. Defense Secretary said Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine “is what happens when oppressors trample the rules that protect us all.”
“It’s what happens when big powers decide that their imperial appetites matter more than the rights of their peaceful neighbors,” Lloyd Austin said during a visit to Asia. “And it’s a preview of a possible world of chaos and turmoil that none of us would want to live in.”
GOVERNOR: FLAMETHROWERS USED IN LUHANSK
A Ukrainian governor accused Russia of using incendiary weapons in a village in the eastern province of Luhansk, southwest of the fiercely contested cities of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk.
While the use of flamethrowers on the battlefield is legal, provincial Gov. Serhii Haidai alleged the overnight attacks in Vrubivka caused widespread damage to civilian facilities and an unknown number of victims.
“At night, the enemy used a flamethrower rocket system — many houses burnt down,” Haidai wrote on Telegram on Saturday. His claim could not be immediately verified.
Sievierodonetsk and neighboring Lysychansk are the last major areas of Luhansk remaining under Ukrainian control. Haidai said Russian forces destroyed railway depots, a brick factory and a glass factory.
The Ukrainian army said Saturday that Russian forces also were to launch an offensive on the city of Sloviansk in Donetsk province, which together with Luhansk makes up the Donbas,
Moscow-backed rebels have controlled self-proclaimed republics in both provinces since 2014, and Russia is trying to seize the territory still in Ukrainian hands.
ZELENSKYY SEEKS MORE EU SANCTIONS ON RUSSIA
During a visit to Kyiv by the European Union’s top official, Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskyy called for a new round of “even stronger” EU sanctions against Russia.
Zelenskyy called for them to target more Russian officials, including judges, and to hamper the activities of all Russian banks, including gas giant Gazprom’s bank, as well as all Russian companies helping Moscow “in any way.”
He spoke during a brief media appearance with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen at the heavily guarded presidential office compound in Ukraine’s capital. Von der Leyen was on her second visit to Ukraine since the invasion in February.
The pair discussed Ukraine’s aspirations for EU membership. Zelenskyy, speaking through a translator, said Ukraine “will do everything” to integrate with the bloc.
“Russia wants to divide Europe, wants to weaken Europe,” he said.
Von der Leyen said the EU’s executive arm was “working day and night” on an assessment of Ukraine’s eligibility as an EU candidate. The goal is to have the review ready to share with the bloc’s 27 existing members by the end of next week.
Zelenskyy and some EU supporters want Ukraine admitted to quickly. Von der Leyen described the membership process as “a merit-based path” and appealed for Ukraine to strengthen its rule of law, fight corruption and modernize its institutions.
She praised Ukraine’s “strength and resilience” in the face of Russia’s “horrible and atrocious” invasion and said the EU would assist with the country’s reconstruction.
RUSSIA SETS UP COMPANY TO SELL UKRAINE’S GRAIN
Russian-installed officials in Ukraine’s southern Zaporizhzhia region have set up a company to buy up local grain and resell it on Moscow’s behalf, a local representative told the Interfax news agency on Saturday.
Ukraine and the West have accused Russia of stealing Ukraine’s grain and causing a global food crisis that could cause millions of deaths from hunger.
Yevgeny Balitsky, the head of Zaporizhzhia’s pro-Russian provisional administration, said the new state-owned grain company has taken control of several facilities.
He said “the grain will be Russian” and “we don’t care who the buyer will be.”
It was not clear if the farmers whose grain was being sold by Russia were getting paid. Balitsky said his administration would not forcibly appropriate grain or pressure producers to sell it.
The head of Ukraine’s presidential office accused Russia’s military of shelling and burning grain fields ahead of the harvest. Andriy Yermak alleged Moscow is “trying to repeat” a Soviet-era famine which claimed the lives of over 3 million Ukrainians in 1932-33.
“Our soldiers are putting out the fires, but (Russia’s) ‘food terrorism’ must be stopped,” Yermak wrote Saturday on Telegram.
The accuracy of his and Balitsky’s claims could not be independently verified.
RUSSIAN PASSPORTS FOR UKRAINE RESIDENTS
Russian forces occupying parts of southern Ukraine began handing out Russian passports to local residents Saturday.
In the Kherson region, 23 residents accepted the passports, including the new Moscow-installed governor, Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported.
“For me this is a truly historic moment. I have always thought that we are one country and one people,” the news agency quoted Gov. Volodymyr Saldo as saying.
Russian forces also started awarding passports in the occupied city of Melitopol, according to Russian state news agency TASS. A Telegram post by TASS cited a Russian-installed local official as the original source of the information.
It did not specify how many residents had requested or received Russian citizenship.
Melitopol is located outside of the Donbas in the region of Zaporizhzhia, which is still held partly by Ukraine.
DEATH TOLL AMONG CHILDREN
Nearly 800 children have been killed or wounded in Ukraine since the beginning of Russia’s invasion, Ukrainian authorities said Saturday.
According to a statement by the Office of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine, at least 287 children died as a result of military activity, while at least 492 more have been hurt. The statement stressed the figures were not final and said they were based on investigations by juvenile prosecutors.
The office said children in Donetsk province have suffered the most, with 217 reported killed or wounded, compared with 132 and 116, respectively, in the Kharkiv and Kyiv regions.
CIVILIAN DEATH FROM EXPLOSION ON BEACH
Officials in the city of Odesa said Saturday that a man was killed by an explosion while visiting a beach on the Black Sea, where mines are a growing concern.
The city council said via Telegram that the man was there with his wife and son despite warnings to stay away from beaches in the area. He was testing the water’s temperature and depth when the explosion erupted.
Russia and Ukraine each have accused the other of laying mines in the Black Sea.