A Russian journalist has been killed near the front line in Ukraine’s southeastern Zaporizhia region, Russia’s defence ministry said, as Moscow accused Kyiv of using cluster munitions supplied by the United States this month in the attack.
Rostislav Zhuravlev, a war correspondent for Russia’s RIA news agency, was killed and three other Russian journalists were wounded in a Ukrainian artillery attack on Saturday, the Russian defence ministry said, adding they were evacuated from the battlefield but Zhuravlev died during the journey.
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“As a result of a strike by the Ukrainian army using cluster munitions, four journalists were wounded in various levels of severity,” the Russian army said in a statement.
It said the other correspondents have wounds of “medium severity”.
Journalist Daniel Hawkins, speaking from Moscow, said that there has been a “furious reaction” from Moscow regarding the incident.
“Russia’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Dmitry Polyansky, said that this attack has crossed all moral red lines,” Hawkins said, adding that Konstantin Kosachev, the vice deputy speaker of the Russian Federation Council, said that Ukraine and Washington bore equal responsibility for the attack.
The Russian foreign ministry said Zhuravlev’s death is “a heinous, premeditated crime” committed by Western powers and Kyiv.
“Everything indicates that the attack on the group of journalists was not carried out by chance,” the Russian foreign ministry said.
Maria Zakharova, the foreign ministry spokeswoman, denounced what she called “criminal terror” by Ukraine and said, without providing evidence, that the attack appeared deliberate.
“Those responsible for the brutal reprisal against a Russian journalist will inevitably suffer well-deserved punishment,” she said.
She also said the responsibility for the killing also lies with those who supplied Ukraine with cluster munitions.
According to the ministry, “The journalists were gathering material for a report on the bombing by the Kyiv regime militants of settlements in the Zaporizhzhia region using cluster munitions banned in many countries around the world”.
The RIA agency also reported Zhuravlev’s death, saying he was killed near the front-line village of Piatykhatky.
No comment was immediately available from Ukraine on the incident.
The defence ministry said Ukraine had used cluster munitions in the incident, but did not provide evidence for this and Reuters was not able to verify it independently.
Separately, the governor of Russia’s Belgorod region said that Ukraine fired cluster munitions at a village near the Ukrainian border on Friday, but that there were no casualties or damage.
“In Belgorod district, 21 artillery shells and three cluster munitions from a multiple-launch rocket system were fired at the village of Zhuravlevka,” Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said.
Ukraine received cluster bombs from the United States this month, but it has pledged to use them only to dislodge concentrations of enemy soldiers. White House national security spokesman John Kirby said this week that Ukrainian forces were using them appropriately and effectively against Russian formations.
Such weapons contain dozens of small bomblets that rain shrapnel over a wide area, but are banned in many countries due to the potential danger they pose to civilians. Ukraine has repeatedly said their use will be limited to the battlefield.
The United Nations has said Russia itself has repeatedly used cluster munitions during the war.
Drone attack in Crimea
Meanwhile, a Ukrainian drone attack on Crimea blew up an ammunition depot, sparking evacuations on the Moscow-annexed peninsula and halting rail traffic.
The Ukrainian military confirmed it had launched the drone attack, claiming through its press service that it had destroyed an oil depot and Russian arms warehouses in the Krasnohvardiiske area, although without specifying what weapons were used.
The Moscow-installed head of Crimea, Sergei Aksyonov, said an “enemy” drone had detonated an ammunition depot and ordered the evacuation of people living within five kilometres(3.1 miles) of the zone.
“As a result of an attack by an enemy drone on the Krasnogvardeisky district, an ammunition depot detonated,” Aksyonov said on Telegram, referring to an area that lies inland at the centre of Crimea.
Rail traffic was briefly pro-Russian authorities later said that traffic was restored but “limited”.
Crimea, annexed by Russia in 2014, has been targeted by Kyiv throughout Moscow’s 17-month-long Ukraine offensive but has come under more intense, increased attacks in recent weeks.
The attack came less than a week after a Ukrainian predawn attack on the Kerch bridge – which links the peninsula to Russia – killed two Russians and prompted Moscow to exit a landmark grain export deal.
The 19km (12-mile) road and rail bridge is a vital logistics link for Russian forces, and is also heavily used by Russian tourists who flock to Crimea in summer.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Friday that the bridge was a legitimate target because it was a military supply route for Russia.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian president said on Saturday that he discussed the “unblocking” of the Black Sea grain corridor with NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg.
Russia ended the international grain agreement last week, which had allowed Ukraine to sell some 33 million tonnes of grain and food abroad since last summer, despite the continuing Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“We shared assessments of the current situation in the Black Sea and the risks it poses for global food security,” Zelenskyy said on Twitter after a phone call with Stoltenberg. “We also identified with Mr Stoltenberg the priority and future steps necessary for unblocking and sustainable operation of the Black Sea grain corridor.”
Moscow said its end of the deal was not being upheld, such as implementing a parallel agreement in order to ease rules for its own food and fertiliser exports.