Ukraine has said it has carried out a long-range rocket attack against Russian forces and military equipment in southern Ukraine, territory it says it is planning to retake in a counteroffensive using hundreds of thousands of troops.
The attack hit an ammunition dump in the town of Nova Kakhovka in the Kherson region and killed 52 Russians, Ukraine’s military said on Tuesday. It came after Washington supplied Ukraine with advanced high mobility artillery rocket systems (HIMARS), which Kyiv says its forces are using with growing efficiency.
A Russian-installed official in Kherson gave a different version of events. Russia’s TASS news agency reported him as saying that 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 territory Ukraine struck is one that Russia seized after launching a full-scale invasion on February 24 – what Moscow called “a special military operation”. The area 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 one 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 5️2 [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 a statement.
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 that can be used to make fertiliser or gunpowder. A large explosion resulted.
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.
On Sunday, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister urged civilians in Kherson to evacuate as Kyiv’s armed forces were preparing a counterattack.
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.
Regional Donetsk governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said there was a significant build-up of Russian troops, particularly in the Bakhmut and Siversky areas, and around Sloviansk and Kramatorsk.
The entire 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.
Six people were injured in Russian shelling on Ukraine’s second city Kharkiv, regional governor Oleg Synegubov said, after raids the previous day left seven dead across that region.
Ukrainian emergency services also said the death toll in the eastern town of Chasiv Yar had risen to 45, two days after Russian bombardment flattened a residential building in the Donetsk region of the Donbas.