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Ukraine’s military said it launched a major counter-offensive in the south of the country on July 12 as it sought to retake territory captured earlier by Russian troops.

Ukrainian military strikes destroyed artillery, armored vehicles and “an ammunition warehouse” in the town of Nova Kakhovka, the Ukrainian army said at the start of its counteroffensive against Russian troops occupying parts of the Kherson region.

“Based on the results of our rocket and artillery units, the enemy lost 52 [soldiers]one Msta-B howitzer, one mortar and seven armored and other vehicles, as well as an ammunition depot in Nova Kakhovka,” the Southern Ukraine Military Command said in a statement.

However, Russian news agency TASS reported that the target was a mineral fertilizer storage site which exploded and damaged a nearby market, hospital and houses. Some fertilizer ingredients can be used for ammo.

Volodymyr Leontyev, head of the Kremlin-based Kherson region civil-military administration, called it a “terrorist act” and said seven civilians had been killed and 80 others injured.

As with other incidents during the war, the battlefield claims of each side could not immediately be independently verified.

Moscow later said a US-supplied High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) was used in the attack on Nova Kakhovka, which lies about 55 kilometers east of the key port city of Kherson on the Black Sea.

The Ukrainian army did not specify which weapon it was using, but Security Council Secretary Oleksiy Danilov told RFE/RL’s Ukrainian service that precision weapons sent by foreign partners would speed up the process of disoccupying the territories captured by Russia.

The foreign weapons worked “perfectly”, he added. They “hit exactly where they need to”.

The United States announced on July 8 that it would send four more. He said that would bring the number of HIMARS sent by Washington to 12.

Arms from the United States and other Western countries are seen by Russia as “an aggravation of the Ukrainian crisis”, according to Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.

She blamed the United States for an increased risk of direct military confrontation between the two nations.

Ukraine said late July 12 that its air force had destroyed another Russian ammunition depot in southern Ukraine. The Air Force press service said that Su-25 attack planes and Su-24M bombers hit a group of weapons and military equipment in the directions of Izyum and Donetsk .

Also in the Kherson region, Ukrainian military intelligence said on July 12 that its troops had rescued five Ukrainians during a special operation in an area occupied by separatist forces.

A statement identified those rescued as a military, a former police officer and three civilians. One had serious battle wounds, he added without giving further details.

Ukraine’s military said earlier it had amassed a massive force for a counter-offensive in the south as it sought to retake key seaports – including Kherson – captured earlier by Russia after its February 24 invasion.

The bombings in the south came as Washington and the European Union announced billions of dollars combined for Ukraine and Kremlin forces continued to blast eastern Ukraine in their bid to take the crucial region. of Donbass.

The United States said it would provide an additional $1.7 billion in aid to increase Ukraine’s national budget for the payment of health care worker salaries.

EU member states, meanwhile, have approved €1 billion ($1 billion) in financial aid for Kyiv, calling it the first installment of a promised €9 billion bailout package. agreed in May.

In the east, Russian forces continued to intensify their shelling as they struck sites in the Donetsk region, which together with the Luhansk region constitute the industrial heartland of Ukraine’s Donbass. Donbass has become the focus of Russia’s military effort after its failure to take Kyiv earlier in the conflict.

Ukraine’s military said Russian forces were using heavy shelling in the east to prepare for an escalation in ground hostilities. Ukrainian officials have called strikes against civilian targets in the region “war crimes” and pleaded with the West to speed up the delivery of weapons needed to withstand the onslaught.

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In the eastern Ukrainian town of Chasiv Yar, the head of the Donetsk regional military administration said the number of people killed in an airstrike this weekend on a building was now at 45.

Pavlo Kyrylenko said the number of survivors from the rubble is nine, adding that 80% of the ruins have been dismantled.

Kyiv described the structure as a civilian residential building, while the Russian military said it attacked a building used for military purposes.

Russia says it did not target civilians in Ukraine in what it calls its “special military operation”.

On July 12, Russian troops shelled Mykolaiv from the territory of the Kherson region using S-300 and anti-aircraft missile systems, said the mayor of the city, the mayor of Mykolaiv, Oleksandr Senkevych.

“A burnt two-story building [and] nearby buildings were damaged by debris and the shock wave,” Senkevych said on Telegram.

Another five-story building was damaged by the tail of a rocket and a school building was destroyed. Two hospitals, a bank and a post office were also damaged, while rockets hit the grounds of a fishing business. Twelve people were injured, he said.

Meanwhile, the White House said on July 11 that it believed Iran planned to supply Russia with “hundreds” of unmanned aerial vehicles, including weapons-capable drones, for use in its war. in Ukraine.

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters on July 11 that Washington had information showing that Iran was preparing to train Russian forces to use the drones.

Sullivan said it was a sign that Russia’s heavy bombardment of Ukraine – which allowed Moscow to consolidate its gains in eastern Ukraine after setbacks around Kyiv – “has a cost to maintaining with his own weapons”.

With reports from the Ukrainian service of RFE/RL, AP, Reuters, BBC and AFP

Edwin S. Wolfe