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Ukrainian forces strike key bridge in Russian-occupied south

Rescuers move a covered body of a woman killed by a Russian missile attack (AP)
Rescuers move a covered body of a woman killed by a Russian missile attack (AP)

Ukrainian artillery has hit a strategic bridge essential for Russia to supply its forces occupying Ukraine’s southern region, using a US-supplied precision rocket system to deliver a morale-lifting punch.

The Ukrainian military struck the Antonivskyi Bridge across the Dnieper River late on Tuesday, the deputy head of the Moscow-appointed administration for the Kherson region, Kirill Stremousov, said.

He said the bridge was still standing but its deck was pierced with holes, stopping vehicles from crossing.

The near-one-mile bridge sustained serious damage in Ukrainian shelling last week, when it took multiple hits.

Russian missile attack
Rescuers remove debris after a Russian missile attack in Chuhuiv, in the Kharkiv region (AP)

It was closed for trucks but had remained open for passenger vehicles until the strike late on Tuesday.

Ukrainian forces used US-supplied Himars multiple rocket launchers to hit the bridge, Mr Stremousov said.

The Himars system has precision strike capability and has added a more modern technological edge to Ukraine’s dated military assets.

The Himars have a longer range, a much better precision and a faster rate of fire compared with Soviet-designed Smerch, Uragan and Tornado multiple rocket launchers used by both Russia and Ukraine.

The billions of dollars in western military assistance have been crucial for Ukraine’s efforts to fend off Russian attacks, but officials in Kyiv say the numbers are still too small to turn the tide of the war.

While halting traffic across the bridge, at least temporarily, makes only a slight dent in the overall Russian military operation, the strike showed Russian forces are vulnerable and was a minor triumph for Ukrainians.

The bridge is the main crossing across the Dnieper River in the Kherson region.

Shelling in Odesa
People walk in a yard of an apartment building destroyed by Russian shelling on the outskirts of Odesa, Ukraine (AP)

The only other option is a dam at the hydroelectric plant in Kakhovka, which also came under Ukrainian fire last week but has remained open for traffic.

Knocking the crossings out would make it hard for the Russian military to keep supplying its forces in the region amid repeated Ukrainian attacks.

Early in the war, Russian troops quickly overran the Kherson region just north of the Crimean Peninsula that Russia annexed in 2014.

They have faced Ukrainian counter-attacks, but have largely held their ground.

The accurate targeting of the bridge contrasted with Russia’s indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas since the invasion five months ago.

The governor of Dnipropetrovsk, in the central eastern area of Ukraine, said on Wednesday that Russian forces struck two regions with artillery.

Governor Valentyn Reznichenko said that in the town of Marhanets, a woman was wounded and several apartment buildings, a hospital and a school were damaged by the shelling.

“Chaotic shelling has no other goal but to sow panic and fear among the civilian population,” he said.

Ukrainian soldier
Ukrainian servicemen prepare a cannon for fighting in the Kharkiv region (AP)

The Ukrainian attacks on the bridge in Kherson come as the bulk of the Russian forces are stuck in the fighting in Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland of Donbas where they have made slow gains in the face of ferocious Ukrainian resistance.

Russian forces kept up their artillery barrage in the eastern Donetsk region, targeting towns and villages, according to regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko.

“The Russian army is using scorched earth tactics in attacking the Ukrainian cities,” Mr Kyrylenko said in televised remarks.

He said the region is without gas and power, while water supplies to some areas have also been cut.

In Bakhmut, a key city on the front line of the Russian offensive, the shelling damaged a hotel and caused casualties, Mr Kyrylenko said. A rescue operation was under way.

Amid Moscow’s push to take full control of the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions, Russians have gained marginal ground north-east of Bakhmut, according to a Washington DC-based think tank.

Russian forces, however, are unlikely to occupy significant additional territory in Ukraine “before the early autumn”, the Institute for the Study of War said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky claimed that Russian military losses have climbed to nearly 40,000, adding that tens of thousands more were wounded and maimed.

Volodymyr Zelensky
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (AP)

His claim could not be independently verified.

The Russian military last reported its losses in March, when it said that 1,351 troops were killed in action and 3,825 were wounded.

In other developments:

– Six people were wounded when the city of Kharkiv, in the north-east, came under shelling overnight, according to the city mayor, Ihor Terekhov.