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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Russia launches another aerial assault as fighting intensifies

Mourners at the funeral of Oleksandr Bondarenko, 46, who was killed near Kreminna, Ukraine, by a sniper, in Kyiv, Ukraine, May 1, 2023. (Nicole Tung/The New York Times)

By Marc Santora and Malachy Browne

Russia launched a broad predawn aerial assault at targets across Ukraine on Monday, the second wide-ranging attack in four days, as fighting appeared to intensify before an anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive.

Two people were killed and 40 wounded in Russian strikes on the central Ukrainian city of Pavlograd, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly address.

“For every such attack, the Russian invaders will receive our response,” he said.

Serhiy Lysak, governor of the Dneprotrovsk region, which includes Pavlograd, said dozens of buildings, including schools and homes, were damaged in the strikes, which set off a massive fire that lit up the night sky.

The sounds of explosions also echoed above the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, and other parts of the country before dawn as Ukrainian air defenses shot down 15 of 18 Russian cruise missiles, according to the Ukrainian military. Monday’s assault also included bombing runs by Russian aircraft, including one that killed a 14-year-old boy in the Chernihiv region, Zelenskyy said.

Herman Galushchenko, Ukraine’s energy minister, said the overnight strikes — described by Russia’s Ministry of Defense as an attack on “Ukrainian military-industrial complex facilities” — had caused “significant damage” to power distribution networks in and around the city of Dnipro in central Ukraine, cutting off scores of people from the power grid.

The missile barrage came as Ukrainian forces have stepped up their own efforts to strike Russian targets behind the front lines before what is expected to be a significant counteroffensive in the near future, carried out with the support of newly delivered, powerful weapons from Western allies.

The Ukrainian military said Monday evening that its aircraft had carried out four strikes on concentrations of Russian troops, while artillery and rockets had hit targets including an ammunition depot. Residents of the occupied southern city of Berdiansk reported overnight that a strike hit a Russian airfield, according to Ukrainian media and Petro Andriushchenko, an adviser to the exiled mayor of the nearby city of Mariupol. The claims could not be independently verified and the extent of any damage was unclear.

Russian-appointed officials in the occupied Crimean peninsula said air defenses had fended off a drone attack, two days after a drone was blamed for an explosion at an oil depot in Sevastopol, the home to the Russian navy’s Black Sea Fleet. A spokesperson for Ukraine’s southern military command previously said the depot fire was part of the preparations for a coming “full-scale offensive.”

Ukraine’s defense minister, Oleksii Reznikov, said in an appearance on national television Monday that the military was “reaching the finish line” in those preparations. Military commanders, he said, would decide “how, where and when” the counteroffensive would be carried out.

Both sides have reported escalating attacks in recent days.

The governor of a Russian border region on Sunday accused Ukraine of cross-border shelling that killed four people, and on Monday two civilians were killed by shelling in Russian-held territory in the Zaporizhzhia region that occupation officials blamed on Ukraine, the Russian state news agency Tass reported.

After Ukrainian officials said Moscow’s forces hit an apartment block in central Ukraine on Friday, killing at least 23 people, regional authorities across the country reported a continued bombardment over the weekend. Over the course of 24 hours, regional officials in Ukraine’s north, east and south reported Russian artillery, mortar, rocket or drone strikes in 11 regions, killing at least three people and destroying more than 100 residential buildings.

The flurry of strikes from both sides could signal the start of a shift in a conflict that has for months settled into a grinding war of attrition, with tens of thousands of soldiers killed and wounded in heavy fighting across eastern Ukraine but little territory being gained by either side.

But any coming Ukrainian counteroffensive will have to deal with Russian forces that have moved into defensive positions, according to Ukrainian and Western officials.

Britain’s defense intelligence agency said Monday that Russian forces had “constructed some of the most extensive systems of military defensive works seen anywhere in the world for many decades.” Those efforts, the agency said, include not only near the front lines but also “deep inside areas Russia currently controls,” with particular effort taken to fortify the northern border of Crimea.

In a Twitter post, the agency said the extensive network highlights “Russian leaders’ deep concern that Ukraine could achieve a major breakthrough.”

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