Ukraine: Attack on Odessa, Putin-Lukashenko meeting in St. Petersburg

Russian troops again stormed the Ukrainian port city of Odessa on the night of Saturday to Sunday, killing one person, hours before a meeting between Vladimir Putin and Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, Moscow’s staunch ally.

The two leaders, who are due to meet in Saint Petersburg (north-west) on Sunday, plan to discuss a “strategic partnership and alliance” particularly between Moscow and Minsk, according to the terms of a press release published by the Kremlin on Friday.

This is the first meeting between the two men since Alexander Lukashenko was introduced as a mediator between the Kremlin and Yevgeny Prigogine during the failed Wagner uprising in Russia about a month ago.

Regularly targeted by Russian attacks, Odessa, whose historic center was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site earlier this year, was the target of a new overnight attack that left one civilian dead.

“Unfortunately, we have one civilian killed as a result of the Russian terrorist attack on Odessa overnight,” Governor Oleg Kiper wrote in a telegram early Sunday.

Shortly before, he reported a Russian attack at “0300” (0000 GMT). He added, “In Odessa, there are 18 victims, including four children. Fourteen people were transferred to city hospitals, among whom were three children.” He said that help is being provided on the spot.

The Southern Operational Command of the Ukrainian military said the air defense forces shot down a “significant” portion of five different types of Russian missiles, including Calibres.

– Cathedral damaged –

Giving details, the army said the unguided projectiles damaged the port infrastructure, at least six residences including apartment buildings. He said a missile had struck the Orthodox cathedral in the center of the city.

A car damaged by a Russian missile attack in Odessa on July 23, 2023 (AFP – Oleksandr Gimanov)

According to a video reposted by the City Hall on its Telegram channel, the Odessa Transfiguration Cathedral was damaged.

“Two architectural monuments” were damaged during the attack, which also caused “power cuts”, the army continued. It was later reported that 19 people were injured, including four children.

The military reported a total of “four missile strikes, 58 airstrikes and 81 attacks from multiple rocket launcher systems” throughout the night.

“More defense missile systems” and strategic missiles for Ukraine, claimed Andrey Yermak, head of the presidential administration.

Located on the Black Sea coast, Odessa is a strategic city for sea transit in the region.

It experienced a “night from hell” on Thursday, when Kiev accused Moscow of specifically targeting port infrastructure to block any possible resumption of Ukrainian grain exports.

UNESCO on Friday “strongly condemned” the Russian attacks on “several museums” and historic buildings in the center which “caused damage”.

The Russian army has assured to target only military sites.

The new overnight attack comes a day after a Ukrainian drone strike blew up an ammunition depot in Crimea, prompting the evacuation of the surrounding population and suspending rail traffic in the Russian-held peninsula.

The death of a Russian journalist in the Ukrainian bombing also sparked anger in the Kremlin, which condemned the “heinous crime” and promised to “answer” those responsible for the attack. Its target was a “military installation”, an internal source in the Ukrainian military told AFP.

– Skirmishes near Zaporizhia –

The Russian attacks on Odessa come less than two days after Moscow said it conducted military drills with missile fire in the Black Sea, where tensions have risen since the end of a grain deal crucial to the world’s diet that allowed Ukrainian grain exports.

Firefighters extinguish a fire at a service station affected by the Russian airstrike in Kostiantynivka, Ukraine, July 22, 2023 (AFP - Zhenya Savilov)
Firefighters extinguish a fire at a service station affected by the Russian airstrike in Kostiantynivka, Ukraine, July 22, 2023 (AFP – Zhenya Savilov)

According to Governor Kiper, during the night of Thursday to Friday, Russian Kalibra-type cruise missiles fired from the sea struck the Odessa region, the fourth consecutive night of attacks.

And during the previous night, drones and missiles struck Odessa and Mykolaiv, another large city in southern Ukraine, killing at least three people and injuring about 20.

Northeast of there, on the Zaporizhia front, where Europe’s largest nuclear power plant is located, occupied by the Russians, “three attacks by the Armed Forces of Ukraine in the direction of Rabotino” were repelled, according to the TASS agency, citing Oleg Chekhov, the press chief of the Russian units “Vostok”.

“Tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and soldiers” of the Ukrainian army were “destroyed”, he told TASS.

For its part, the Ukrainian military announced that Moscow was focusing its troops on “the main part of its efforts in preventing further advances”. According to the same source, Russia failed to “recover its lost positions south of Novodarivka in the Zaporizhia region”.

“At the same time, the Defense Forces of Ukraine continued offensive operations, consolidating their positions on the Melitopol and Berdyansk fronts,” the Ukrainian military said.

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