Kiev, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian forces have attacked and severely damaged a bridge in southern Ukraine essential to supply Russian troops in southern Ukraine, a regional official said Wednesday.
Kirill Stremousov, deputy head of the Moscow-backed temporary administration for the Russian-controlled southern Kherson region, said the Ukrainian army hit the Antonivskyi Bridge, which crosses the Dnipro River, with missiles on Wednesday, scoring 11 hits.
He said in comments from the Interfax news agency that the bridge suffered serious damage but was not closed to traffic.
“The bridge is now in bad shape,” Stremousov said, according to Interfax. “The bridge was not closed, traffic is still going on over it, but the situation is serious.”
The 1.4-kilometer-long bridge is the main crossing point across the Dnieper River in the Kherson region, and if rendered useless, it would be difficult for the Russian military to continue resupplying its troops in the region amid repeated Ukrainian attacks. to attack.
Stremousov said Ukrainian forces used US-supplied HIMARS missile launchers to hit the bridge, adding that some of them were intercepted by Russian air defenses.
The head of the Moscow-appointed Kherson government, Vladimir Saldo, said in a video message that passenger vehicles were allowed to continue driving over the bridge, but freight traffic was halted to allow for quick repairs. He noted that trucks could cross the river via a dam about 80 kilometers (50 mi) away.
Wednesday’s shelling of the bridge was the second in as many days. According to Moscow-backed authorities in Kherson, it had been slightly damaged by Ukrainian shelling the day before.
At the start of the war, Russian forces quickly captured the Kherson region just north of the Crimean peninsula that Russia annexed in 2014. They have faced Ukrainian counter-attacks, but have largely held out.
The British Ministry of Defense said on Wednesday that the bridge in Kherson was likely still usable after the Ukrainian attacks, but it is a “main vulnerability for Russian forces”.
“It is one of only two border crossings across the Dnieper where Russia can resupply or withdraw its troops into the area it has occupied west of the river,” it added. “Control of the crossing of the Dnieper is likely to become a key factor in the outcome of the fighting in the region.”
The Ukrainian attacks on the Kherson bridge come as the bulk of Russian forces are mired in the fighting in Donbas, Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland, where they have slowly made a profit while facing fierce Ukrainian resistance.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu inspected the troops in the east and ordered them to act more aggressively to shoot down Ukrainian drones and prevent the Ukrainian army from shelling the areas occupied by Russian forces.
Russia’s advance has slowed, in part because Ukraine is using more effective US weapons and in part because of what Russian President Vladimir Putin has called an “operational pause.” Russia focuses more on aerial bombing with long-range missiles.
Ukrainian officials expressed hope that Kiev could drain Russian military resources in the battle for Donbas and then launch a counter-offensive to regain control of the Kherson region and parts of the Zaporizhzhya region that the Russians had lost in the early days of the war. had taken the war.
With indications that Ukraine is planning counter-attacks to retake occupied territories, the Russian military has in recent weeks targeted the Black Sea port city of Odessa and parts of southern Ukraine, where its forces captured cities earlier in the war.
Kherson — site of a major shipbuilding industry at the confluence of the Dnieper River and the Black Sea near Russia-annexed Crimea — is one of several areas a US government spokesman said Russia is trying to annex. After months of local rumors and announcements about a Russian referendum, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said on Tuesday that U.S. intelligence officials have gathered “enough” new evidence that Russia is formally seeking additional Ukrainian territory and a “sham” could hold. public vote in September. Russia is looking at Kherson as well as the entirety of the Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts.
“Russia is laying the groundwork for the annexation of Ukrainian territory it controls, in direct violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty,” Kirby said in Washington.
Kirby also said the White House is expected to announce more military aid to Ukraine later this week. The aid is expected to include more HIMARS systems, a crucial weapon that Ukrainian forces have used successfully in their fight to fend off Russian forces.
As they continue their offensive in the Donbas, Russian forces also bombarded large areas in the east and elsewhere in Ukraine with rocket attacks and artillery shelling.
Ukraine’s presidential office said at least 13 civilians have been killed and another 40 injured in Russian shelling across the country.
At least five of the dead were in the Donetsk region of the Donbas.
“There is no longer a safe place in the region,” Donetsk Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said in televised comments. “Residents must evacuate while they still can.”
The Russian barrage also struck the Kharkov region of northeastern Ukraine, where five people have died in the past 24 hours.
“These attacks targeting peaceful civilians make no sense, but the Russian military continues with these senseless shelling,” Kharkiv Governor Oleh Syniehubov said.
Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine