Ukraine reports hitting Russian ammunition depot in the south

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine’s military on Tuesday reported destroying a Russian ammunition depot in southern Ukraine, leading to a massive explosion captured on social media, as rescuers reported the death toll during a Russian strike over the weekend in the east of the country rose to 45.

A rocket strike overnight targeted the Russian-held Nova Kakhovka depot, the Ukrainian army’s southern command said. Nova Kakhovka lies about 55 kilometers (35 miles) east of the Black Sea port city of Kherson, which is also occupied by Russian forces..

The accuracy of the strike suggested that Ukrainian forces used US-supplied High Mobility Multiple Launch Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS. Ukraine has indicated in recent days that it may launch a counter-offensive to reclaim territory in the south as Russia bombards the eastern region of Donbass.

Russian news agency Tass presented a different account of the explosion at Nova Kakhovka, saying a mineral fertilizer storage facility had exploded and a market, hospital and homes had been damaged. Some of the fertilizer ingredients can be used for ammo.

A satellite photo taken Tuesday and analyzed by The Associated Press showed extensive damage. A huge crater gapes precisely where a large warehouse-like structure once stood.

Ukraine now has eight of the HIMAR systems, a high-precision truck-mounted missile launcher, and Washington has promised to send four more.

Explosions were reported on Tuesday evening in Luhansk, a city in Donbass controlled by Russian-backed separatists since 2014, with videos posted on social media. A spokesman for the separatist forces, Andrei Marochko, said the Ukrainian military had dealt a “deep blow” to Lugansk’s air defense system, Russian news agency Interfax reported. He said there was no word yet on the casualties. There was no immediate information from the Ukrainian government or military.

“The occupiers have already felt what modern artillery looks like, and their rear will not be safe anywhere on our lands which they have occupied,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address. “They felt that the operations of our intelligence officers to defend their homeland are an order of magnitude greater than any of their special operations.”

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Elsewhere in Ukraine, Russian shelling over the past 24 hours has killed at least 16 civilians and injured 48 others, Ukraine’s presidential office said in its Tuesday morning update. Towns and villages in five southeastern regions came under Russian fire, the office said.

Nine civilians were killed and two others injured in Donetsk province, which represents half of Donbass. Russian rocket fire targeted the cities of Sloviansk and Toretsk, where a kindergarten was hit, the presidential office said.

The British military said on Tuesday that Russia was continuing to make “small incremental gains” in Donetsk, where heavy fighting led the province’s governor last week to urge its remaining 350,000 residents to move to safer places in western Ukraine.

The death toll from the Russian rocket attack that hit a building in Donetsk on Saturday has risen to 45, the emergency services agency said on Tuesday. He said workers found more bodies and also rescued nine people as they dug through the rubble of the five-story building in Chasiv Yar throughout the day.

Yet many in Donbass, a fertile industrial region in eastern Ukraine made up of Donetsk and Luhansk provinces, are unwilling – or unable – to flee.although dozens of civilians are killed and injured each week.

In the northeast of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, and its surrounding area, Russian strikes hit residential buildings, killing four civilians and injuring nine, Ukrainian officials said.

“The Russians are continuing their tactics of intimidating the peaceful population of the Kharkiv region,” Kharkiv Governor Oleh Syniehubov wrote on Telegram on Tuesday.

Russian gunfire also hit the southern city of Mykolaiv on Tuesday morning, hitting residential buildings. Twelve people were injured as a result of the Russian bombardment, with some of the rockets hitting two medical facilities, regional governor Vitaliy Kim said on Telegram.

Air raid sirens sounded in the western city of Lviv on Tuesday – the first daytime sirens in more than a week – and in other parts 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 barrage does not stop and sometimes continues for four to six hours,” Haidai said.

The British Ministry of Defense briefing said Russia had seized the town of Hryhorivka and was continuing to push towards the provincial towns of Donetsk, Kramatorsk and Sloviansk.

“Russian forces are likely to maintain military pressure on Ukrainian forces while regrouping and reconstituting for further offensives in the near future,” the intelligence briefing said.

However, Russia could rely more on private military contractors, such as the Wagner Group, to avoid widespread mobilization, the British ministry said. Western officials accused Wagner of using mercenaries to fight in Africa and elsewhere.

In other developments:

— The Kremlin said Russian President Vladimir Putin would visit Iran next week. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin would travel to Tehran next Tuesday to attend a trilateral meeting with Iranian and Turkish leaders, a format for Syria-related talks. US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters on Monday that Russia was looking for hundreds of surveillance drones from Iran.including weapons capable of being used in Ukraine.

– Russian and Turkish military representatives plan to meet in Istanbul on Wednesday to discuss the transport of Ukrainian grain across the Black Sea, a Russian Foreign Ministry official said. Piotr 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” should also participate in the talks. Ilyichyov reiterated that Moscow is ready “to help ensure the navigation of foreign commercial vessels for the export of Ukrainian grain”.

– Germany’s Justice Minister says he is investigating war crimes in Ukraine would probably take “many years”, but he was confident that it would eventually succeed. Justice Minister Marco Buschmann said there will “probably be hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of pieces of evidence that will need to be sifted through, documented and assessed”. Germany’s federal prosecutor’s office said in early March that it had begun investigating possible war crimes committed by Russian forces. in Ukraine. Buschmann spoke on Tuesday in Prague, where he and his European Union counterparts were meeting.

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Jon Gambrell in Lviv, Ukraine and Isabel DeBre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates contributed to this report.

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Follow AP coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine