Ukraine says it damaged Russian ships, seeks to evacuate wounded Mariupol fighters

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© Reuters. Satellite imagery shows a close-up view of a barge, a Serna-class landing craft and a sunken Serna spacecraft on May 12, 2022 on Snake Island, Ukraine. Satellite Image 2022 Maxar Technologies/Handout via REUTERS

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Jonathan Landy

KHArkIV, Ukraine (Reuters) – Ukraine said it damaged a Russian navy logistics ship near the island of Snake, a small but strategic Black Sea outpost while hiding in Mariupol under siege Relatives of Ukrainian soldiers at the steel mill begged them to be rescued.

The renewed fighting around Snake Island in recent days could turn into a battle for control of the western Black Sea coast as Russian forces struggle to make progress in northern and eastern Ukraine, according to some defense officials.

“As a result of the actions of our navy sailors, the support ship Vsevolod Bobrov caught fire – it was the latest in the Russian fleet,” said Serhiy Bratchuk, spokesman for the Odessa Regional Military Administration.

Reuters was unable to independently verify the details. The Russian Defense Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Satellite imagery provided by private US-based Maxar showed what it said may have been a missile strike on a Russian Serna-class landing craft near the island, near Ukraine’s maritime border with Romania.

The images also showed recent damage to buildings on the island, which was known for the foul language of its Ukrainian defenders in the early days of the invasion.

Russia faces further setbacks on the battlefield as Ukraine drives its troops out of the area around its second-largest city, Kharkiv, at the fastest pace since it forced Kremlin troops out of Kyiv and the northeast more than a month ago. progress.

Reuters reporters confirmed that Ukraine now controls territory that stretches as far as the banks of the Siverskiy Donets, some 40 kilometers (25 miles) east of Kharkov.

Regional authorities reported continued missile attacks around Poltava and shelling in Dergach near Kharkov, killing two people.

In the capital Kyiv, the wives and relatives of Ukrainian fighters hiding at the Azovstad steel plant in the southern port of Mariupol marched and chanted for help. Russian troops have been bombarding the steel mill, the last bastion of the Ukrainian defenders in a city almost entirely under Russian control after a siege of more than two months.

“I want all the defenders who are there to go home so they can live a normal life with their children and relatives,” said Maria Zimaleva, her brother at the steel mill. “It’s what they deserve. Why can others be on the street with their loved ones and they can’t? Why isn’t anyone helping them?”

Kyiv said it was rescuing soldiers, many of whom were seriously wounded.

“We have started a new round of negotiations around the roadmap for the (evacuation) operation. We will start with those who are seriously injured,” Deputy Prime Minister Irina Vereshuk told 1+1 TV.

NATO expansion

A broader diplomatic move has increased pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin as fighting continues across the country.

Finland’s plan to apply to join NATO, announced on Thursday, and the expectation that Sweden will follow suit, will lead to the expansion of the Western military alliance that Putin aims to prevent.

Abandoning their neutrality throughout the Cold War would be one of the biggest shifts in European security in decades.

Moscow called Finland’s statement hostile and threatened retaliation, including unspecified “military-technical” measures.

“Helsinki must be aware of the responsibility and consequences of this move,” the foreign ministry said.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the Finns would be “warmly welcomed” and promised a “smooth and speedy” accession process.

The White House supports such a move.

“If Finland and/or Sweden apply, we will support NATO’s application,” said press secretary Jen Psaki.

Finland’s 1,300-kilometer (800-mile) border will more than double the length of the border between the U.S.-led coalition and Russia, with NATO guards just a few hours’ drive from the northern suburbs of St. Petersburg.

Putin cited the potential expansion of NATO as one of the main reasons why he launched what he called a “special military operation” in Ukraine in February.

The dispute over Russia’s energy supply to Europe, which remains Moscow’s biggest source of funding and Europe’s biggest source of heat and electricity, also intensified on Thursday.

Moscow has said it will stop sending gas to Germany via the main pipeline over Poland, while Kyiv has said it will not reopen the pipeline route it closed this week unless it regains control of the region from pro-Russian fighters. Natural gas prices in Europe have soared.

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