Aug 16, 2023

Ukraine war: Crimea naval base attack, Kyiv 'dominates' frontline, Russia hits Kherson church

All the latest developments from the war in Ukraine.

Russia said on Friday it had thwarted an assault by Ukrainian naval and aerial drones against a naval base on the annexed Crimean peninsula.

"Last night, the Ukrainian armed forces, with the help of two unmanned boats, attempted to attack the naval base of Novorossïysk" on the Black Sea, said Russia's Defence Ministry on Telegram.

“The unmanned boats were visually detected and destroyed by regular gunfire from Russian ships” protecting the base, it added.

Novorossiysk, a major port, is the end of an around 1,500 km oil pipeline from western Kazakhstan and Russian regions located north of the Caspian Sea. Most Kazakh oil for export passes through this pipe.

No damage was reported and oil continued to flow normally on board ships docked in the port, the Caspian Pipeline Consortium (CPC) was quoted as saying by Russian media.

Russia's Black Sea Fleet has been repeatedly targeted since the start of the invasion in February 2022, with attacks escalating in recent weeks.

Ukraine's President said on Thursday evening their counteroffensive was difficult but his troops had the upper hand.

"The occupiers are trying with all their might to stop our guys," said Volodymyr Zelenskyy in his nightly address. "The fighting is very violent."

Still, "whatever the enemy does, it is the Ukrainian army who dominates," he added.

Equipped with Western weapons and training, Kyiv launched a counteroffensive in June to dislodge Russian forces from the south and east of the country.

It has since made modest progress but is going up against deeply entrenched Russian forces that have had months to prepare their defences.

Zelenskyy said there was fighting near Lyman, Bakhmut and Avdiivka, in the eastern Ukraine, but also on the southern front.

In 2022, Ukraine recaptured swathes of territory around Kherson and Kharkiv in lightning assaults.

But Kyiv warned that this counteroffensive could be long and difficult and urged its allies to send more weapons.

Russian shelling damaged a landmark church in the Ukrainian city of Kherson on Thursday.

Ukraine's emergency service said four of its personnel were wounded in a second round of shelling as they fought a fire at St Catherine's Cathedral.

Four others were wounded in the first volley, which also hit a trolleybus, the prosecutor general's office said.

Until last year, the church held the remains of Prince Grigory Potemkin, an 18th-century Russian military commander who encouraged Catherine the Great to expand the Russian Empire into what is now southern Ukraine.

It is one of the city's most notable buildings, dating from 1781.

A missile strike severely damaged a beloved Orthodox cathedral in Odesa, another city in southern Ukraine.

Both attacks further underlined the war's risk to the country's cultural monuments.

Potemkin was governor-general of what was called “New Russia.” His name entered popular speech due to stories, now widely disputed, that he erected fake settlements called “Potemkin villages” to impress Catherine during her long journey through Crimea and the southern territories.

In September, at a Kremlin ceremony marking Russia's illegal annexation of four occupied or partially occupied Ukraine provinces, President Vladimir Putin referenced the concept of New Russia and noted that both Catherine and Potemkin had founded cities there.

Nine civilians were killed and more than a dozen injured in an apparent Russian cluster munition attack on Ukraine, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Friday.

The US-based NGO said Lyman was hit by Russian cluster bombs on 8 July, though both sides have been urged to stop using the devastating munitions.

Russia’s repeated use of cluster munitions since the start of its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 has killed and wounded civilians, damaged civilian objects, and contaminated agricultural land, HRW claimed.

Cluster munitions are widely banned under international treaties due to their indiscriminate nature and the long-term danger posed to civilians.

The attack on Lyman should be investigated as a possible war crime, according to HRW.

“Despite Russia’s claims in recent weeks that it has never used cluster munitions in Ukraine, the list of deadly Russian cluster munition attacks runs long,” said Ida Sawyer, crisis and conflict director at Human Rights Watch.

“This attack, if confirmed, once again demonstrates the Russian army’s contempt for civilians and the international legal restraints of war, as well as the deadly and indiscriminate nature of these weapons.”

In June, the US controversially sent Kyiv cluster bombs, prompting pointed criticism from some NATO allies and Russia itself.

Supporters of Washington's move say cluster munitions are an attractive option because they would help Ukraine destroy more targets with fewer rounds.

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