KYIV: Russian President Vladimir Putin warned Sunday that Moscow will hit new targets if the West supplies Ukraine with long-range missiles, hours after several explosions rocked the Ukrainian capital Kyiv. If Kyiv is provided with such missiles “we will draw the appropriate conclusions and use our arms… to strike targets we haven’t hit before,” Putin was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying. He did not specify which targets he meant.
Putin’s comments came after the United States last week announced that it would supply Ukraine with advanced missile systems. Ukrainian officials earlier on Sunday said Russian missiles hit railway infrastructure sites in the first such strikes on Kyiv since April 28. Russia said that it had destroyed tanks supplied to Ukraine by eastern European countries during the strikes. “High-precision, long-range missiles fired by the Russian Aerospace Forces on the outskirts of Kyiv destroyed T-72 tanks supplied by eastern European countries and other armoured vehicles that were in hangars,” Russian defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said.
One person was wounded and AFP reporters saw several buildings with blown-out windows near one of the sites that was targeted. Leonid, a 63-year-old local resident who used to work at the facility, said he heard three or four explosions. “There is nothing military there but they are bombing everything,” he said. Vasyl, 43, said he heard five blasts. “People are afraid now,” he said, walking back to his damaged home with two loaves of bread. Ukrainian authorities did not want to identify the precise locations of the explosions for security reasons.
Meanwhile, in the east of the country, the battle for control of Severodonetsk raged on. The city is the largest still in Ukrainian hands in the Lugansk region of the Donbas, where Russian forces have been advancing gradually after retreating or being beaten back from other parts of the country, including Kyiv. Lugansk regional governor Sergiy Gaiday said that Russian forces had lost ground in the city and it was now “divided in two”. “The Russians were in control of about 70 percent of the city, but have been forced back over the past two days,” he said on Telegram.
“They are afraid to move freely around the city.” Russia’s army on Saturday claimed some Ukrainian military units were withdrawing from Severodonetsk, but Mayor Oleksandr Striuk said Ukrainian forces were fighting to retake the city. “We are currently doing everything necessary to re-establish total control” of the city, he said in an interview broadcast on Telegram.
‘Put Russia in its place’
Tens of thousands of people have been killed, millions forced to flee and towns turned into rubble since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an all-out assault on his pro-Western neighbour on February 24. Western powers have imposed increasingly stringent sanctions on Russia and supplied arms to Ukraine, but divisions have emerged on how to react. French President Emmanuel Macron said Friday Putin had committed a “fundamental error” but that Russia should not be “humiliated” so that a diplomatic solution could be found.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba reacted Saturday by saying such calls “only humiliate France” and any country taking a similar position. “It is Russia that humiliates itself. We all better focus on how to put Russia in its place,” he said. Despite diplomatic efforts, the conflict has raged in the south and east of the country. The press service of the Ukrainian president’s office on Sunday reported nine civilians killed in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions from shelling.
Fears over food
Apart from the human toll, the conflict has caused widespread damage to Ukraine’s cultural heritage. On Saturday, Ukrainian officials reported a large Orthodox wooden monastery, a popular pilgrim site, had burnt down and blamed Russia shelling. Moscow continues to prove “its inability to be part of the civilised world,” Culture Minister Oleksandr Tkachenko said in a statement.
Russia’s defence ministry blamed “Ukrainian nationalists” for the blaze. Russian troops now occupy a fifth of Ukraine’s territory, according to Kyiv, and Moscow has imposed a blockade on its Black Sea ports, sparking fears of a global food crisis. Ukraine and Russia are among the top wheat exporters in the world.
The United Nations said it was leading intense negotiations with Russia to allow Ukraine’s grain harvest to leave the country. The UN has warned that African countries, which normally import over half of their wheat consumption from Ukraine and Russia, face an “unprecedented” crisis. Food prices in Africa have already exceeded those in the aftermath of the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings and the 2008 food riots.
‘Game of survival’
Away from the battlefield, Ukraine will be fighting for victory over Wales in Sunday’s play-off final as the war-torn country aims to reach its first football World Cup since 2006. “We all understand that the game with Wales will no longer be about physical condition or tactics, it will be a game of survival,” said Ukraine player Oleksandr Zinchenko. “Everyone will fight to the end and give their all, because we will play for our country.” – AFP