Kyiv, Ukraine –
Ukrainian authorities said Tuesday that their forces attacked a Russian ammunition depot in southern Ukraine overnight, resulting in a massive explosion captured on social media.
The Ukrainian army’s southern command said a rocket attack targeted the Russian-held depot at Nova Kakhovka, about 35 miles (55 kilometers) east of the Black Sea port city of Kherson, which is also occupied by Russian forces.
The precision of the attack suggested that Ukrainian forces used High Mobility Multiple Launch Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, supplied by the United States, to attack the area. Ukraine has indicated in recent days that it may launch a counteroffensive to recapture territory in the south of the country while Russia devotes resources to capturing the entire eastern Donbas region.
The Russian news agency Tass offered a different version of the explosion in Nova Kakhovka, saying that a mineral fertilizer storage facility exploded and that a market, a hospital and houses were damaged in the attack. Some of the fertilizer ingredients can be used as ammunition.
A satellite photo taken Tuesday and analyzed by The Associated Press showed significant damage. A massive crater stood precisely where a large warehouse-like structure once stood in the city,
Ukraine now has eight of the HIMAR systems, a truck-mounted missile launcher with high precision, and Washington has promised to send another four.
Elsewhere in Ukraine, Russian shelling in the past 24 hours has killed at least 16 civilians and wounded 48 more, Ukraine’s presidential office said in its Tuesday morning update. Cities and towns in five southeastern regions were attacked by Russia, the office said.
Nine civilians were killed and two more were injured in Donetsk province, which makes up half of Donbas. Russian rocket attacks targeted the cities of Sloviansk and Toretsk, where a kindergarten was hit, the presidential office said.
The British military said Tuesday that Russia was still making “small incremental gains” in Donetsk, where heavy fighting prompted the province’s governor last week to urge the remaining 350,000 residents to move to safer locations in western Ukraine.
The death toll from a Russian rocket attack that hit a Donetsk apartment building on Saturday rose to 43 as of late Tuesday afternoon, Ukrainian officials said. The head of the Donetsk regional military administration, Pavlo Kyrylenko, said on social media earlier in the day that nine wounded people had been rescued from the building in Chasiv Yar.
Yet many in Donbas, a fertile industrial region in eastern Ukraine made up of Donetsk and Lugansk oblasts, are refusing or unable to flee, despite dozens of civilians being killed and injured every week.
In Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, and the surrounding region, Russian strikes hit residential buildings, killing four civilians and wounding nine, Ukrainian officials said.
“The Russians continue their tactics of intimidating the peaceful population of the Kharkiv region,” Kharkiv Governor Oleh Syniehubov wrote on Telegram on Tuesday.
Ukrainian authorities also said Russian fire hit the southern city of Mykolaiv on Tuesday morning, hitting residential buildings. Twelve people were injured as a result of the Russian shelling, with some of the rockets hitting two medical facilities, regional governor Vitaliy Kim said on Telegram.
Air raid sirens sounded Tuesday in the western city of Lviv, the first daytime sirens there in more than a week, and in other areas of Ukraine as Russian forces continued to advance.
In eastern Luhansk, “fighting continues near villages” on the administrative border with neighboring Donetsk, Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai told the Associated Press on Tuesday.
“The Russian army burns everything in its path. The artillery shelling does not stop and sometimes continues for four to six hours at a time,” Haidai said.
The British Defense Ministry intelligence report said Russia had seized the Ukrainian town of Hryhorivka and was continuing to advance towards the towns of Kramatorsk and Sloviansk in Donetsk province.
“Russian forces are likely to maintain military pressure on Ukrainian forces as they regroup and reconstitute for further offensives in the near future,” the intelligence report said.
However, Russia may rely more on private military contractors, such as the Wagner Group, to avoid a general mobilization, the British ministry said. Western officials have accused Wagner of using mercenaries to fight in Africa and elsewhere.
In other developments:
— The Kremlin said Russian President Vladimir Putin will visit Iran next week. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin will travel to Tehran next Tuesday for a trilateral meeting with the leaders of Iran and Turkey, a format for talks related to Syria. US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters on Monday that Russia was seeking hundreds of surveillance drones from Iran, including those with weapons capabilities, for use in Ukraine.
— Russian and Turkish military representatives plan to meet in Istanbul on Wednesday to discuss the transport of Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea, a Russian Foreign Ministry official said. Pyotr Ilyichyov, head of the ministry’s international organizations department, told Russia’s Interfax news agency that “representatives of Ukraine, as well as UN (officials) in the role of observers” are also expected to take part in the talks. Ilyichyov reiterated that Moscow was ready “to help ensure the navigation of foreign trading ships for the export of Ukrainian grain.”
— Germany’s justice minister said the investigation of war crimes in Ukraine would probably take “many years,” but he was confident they would eventually be successful. Justice Minister Marco Buschmann said “there will probably be hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions of pieces of evidence that need to be examined, documented and evaluated.” The German federal prosecutor’s office said in early March that it had begun investigating possible war crimes committed by Russian forces in Ukraine. Buschmann spoke Tuesday in Prague, where he and his European Union counterparts were meeting.
Jon Gambrell in Lviv, Ukraine, and Isabel DeBre in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report.