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Ukraine’s military says it has launched a major counter-offensive in the south of the country as it seeks to retake territory taken earlier by Russian troops, even as Kremlin forces continue to blast eastern Ukraine. Ukraine in their drive to take the crucial Donbass region.

On July 12, Ukraine’s Southern Command said it struck an ammunition depot in the Russian town of Nova Kakhovka, resulting in a massive explosion captured on social media and killing several Russian soldiers.

“Based on the results of our rocket and artillery units, the enemy lost 52 [soldiers]one Msta-B howitzer, one mortar and seven armored and other vehicles, as well as an ammunition depot in Nova Kakhovka,” the Southern Ukraine Military Command said in a statement.

However, Russian news agency TASS reported that the target was a mineral fertilizer storage site which exploded and damaged a nearby market, hospital and houses. Some fertilizer ingredients can be used for ammo.

Volodymyr Leontyev, head of the Kremlin-installed civil-military administration in the Kherson region, called it a “terrorist act” and said seven civilians had been killed and 80 others injured.

As with other incidents during the war, the battlefield claims of each side could not immediately be independently verified.

Nova Kakhovka lies about 55 kilometers east of the key Black Sea port city of Kherson, which was taken by Russian forces early in the war.

Also in the Kherson region, Ukrainian military intelligence said on July 12 that its troops had rescued five Ukrainians during a special operation in an area occupied by separatist forces.

“Five Ukrainian citizens detained by the Russian occupiers have been released” during a “special operation” carried out by Ukrainian military intelligence forces, he said.

A statement identified those rescued as a military, a former police officer and three civilians. One had serious battle wounds, he added without giving further details.

Ukraine’s military said earlier it had amassed a massive force for a counter-offensive in the south as it sought to retake key seaports – including Kherson – captured earlier by Russia after its February 24 invasion.

In the east, Russian forces continued to intensify their shelling as they struck sites in the Donetsk region, which together with the Luhansk region constitute the industrial heartland of Ukraine’s Donbass. Donbass has become the focus of Russia’s military effort after its failure to take Kyiv earlier in the conflict.

Ukraine’s military said Russian forces were using heavy shelling in the east to prepare for an escalation in ground hostilities. Ukrainian officials have called strikes against civilian targets in the region “war crimes” and pleaded with the West to speed up the delivery of weapons needed to withstand the onslaught.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on July 11 said Russian forces had carried out 34 airstrikes in the past two days and the death toll in a strike on a five-storey building in the small town of Chasiv Yar had risen to 33 people, including at least one child.

Live briefing: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

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Ukraine’s army general staff said Russian forces were using the shelling to prepare for an intensification of ground maneuvers in the east. Ukrainian officials have called strikes against civilian targets in the region “war crimes” and pleaded with the West to speed up the delivery of weapons needed to withstand the onslaught.

The US-based Institute for the Study of Warfare said Russia was regrouping its forces and the massive artillery assaults were aimed at creating the conditions for future ground advances.

Moscow denies targeting civilian sites, even in the face of video evidence and the near total destruction of many Ukrainian towns.

Ukraine’s effort has been bolstered recently with the delivery of High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) and similar systems supplied by the United States and its allies, the Secretary of the Security Council said, Oleksiy Danilov. said earlier this week.

The United States announced on July 8 that it would send four more. He said that would bring the number of HIMARS sent by Washington to 12.

It was not immediately clear whether Ukrainian forces had used the HIMARS system to strike Russian sites at Nova Kakhovka.

Meanwhile, the White House said on July 11 that it believed Iran planned to supply Russia with “hundreds” of unmanned aerial vehicles, including weapons-capable drones, for use in its war. in Ukraine.

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters on July 11 that Washington had information showing that Iran was preparing to train Russian forces to use the drones.

Sullivan said it was a sign that Russia’s heavy bombardment of Ukraine – which allowed Moscow to consolidate its gains in eastern Ukraine after setbacks around Kyiv – “has a cost to maintaining with his own weapons”.

With reports from the Ukrainian service of RFE/RL, AP, Reuters, BBC and AFP

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