February 26. 2024. 5:26

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Missiles hammer Ukraine as Russia eyes Bakhmut’s capture by April

Russia rained missiles across Ukraine on Thursday (16 February) and struck its largest oil refinery, Kyiv said, while the head of the Wagner mercenary group predicted the long-besieged city of Bakhmut would take weeks if not months to fall.

Following a pattern of heavy bombardments after Ukrainian battlefield or diplomatic gains, Russia launched 36 missiles in the early hours, Ukraine’s Air Force said.

NATO alliance officials had on the previous day discussed plans for more military hardware for Kyiv, and Britain and Poland agreed after their leaders met on Thursday that support should be stepped up in coming weeks.

The Russian missiles triggered air-raid sirens and landed across Ukraine, including at the Kremenchuk refinery, where the extent of damage was unclear. About 16 were shot down, the Air Force added, a lower rate than usual.

Ukraine said the barrage included three KH-31 missiles and one Oniks anti-ship cruise missile, which its air defences cannot shoot down.

Its general staff, in its evening report, said Russia had also shelled more than two dozen eastern and southern settlements.

There was no word from Moscow on the missile strikes or shelling, and Reuters could not independently confirm the battlefield reports.

Police in Moldova, where parliament on Thursday approved a new pro-Western government, said they again found missile debris near the border with Ukraine.

Missile fragment found in Moldova for the fourth time after Russian attackshttps://t.co/2EUB4YnqBZ

— Ukrainska Pravda in English (@pravda_eng) February 16, 2023

Meanwhile Belarus, which allowed Russia to use its territory to send troops into Ukraine at the start of the war, said it would only fight alongside its ally if it was attacked.

Bolstered by tens of thousands of reservists, Russia has intensified ground attacks across southern and eastern Ukraine, and, as the first anniversary of its 24 February invasion nears, a major new offensive appears to be shaping.

The conflict has killed tens of thousands of people, pulverised Ukrainian cities, destabilised the global economy and displaced millions.

Germany said 1.1 million people arrived from Ukraine in 2022 alone, exceeding its unprecedented migrant influx of 2015-16.

‘Their bodies are just piled up’

Russia’s current focus is on the small city of Bakhmut in Donetsk, one of two regions making up the Donbas, Ukraine’s industrial heartland now partially occupied by Russia.

In battles led by the Wagner group swelled by prison recruits, Russia has for months been pounding and encircling Bakhmut. Most of its pre-war population of about 70,000 people have left, leaving Ukrainian soldiers dug in.

“They (the Russians) are sending a lot of troops. I don’t think that is sustainable for them to keep attacking this way,” said the Ukrainian 80th Air Assault Brigade’s press officer, Taras Dzioba.

“There are places where their bodies are just piled up. There is a trench where… they just don’t evacuate their wounded or killed.”