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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaking during an interview yesterday. AP/PA Images

Ukraine's Dnipro airport is 'destroyed' in fresh attack from Russia

Officials in Kyiv have said that Ukraine is preparing for “big battles” against Moscow’s forces in the east of the country.

THE AIRPORT IN the Ukrainian city of Dnipro has been badly damaged in fresh Russian shelling, a local official said today.

“There has been another attack on Dnipro airport. There is nothing left of it. The airport itself and the infrastructure around it has been destroyed,” the head of the city’s military administration, Valentin Reznichenko, said on Telegram.

“Rockets keep flying and flying,” he added.

He said authorities were seeking to clarify information about victims.

An AFP reporter saw black smoke in the sky above the airport and fire trucks entering its grounds.

A plane also took off from the airport later on Sunday, suggesting the runway was still functioning.

Reznichenko said attacks on the city, which lies on the banks of Dnieper River, intensified today. 

The industrial city of one million people has been targeted by Russian forces since Moscow’s invasion but has so far been spared major destruction.

The announcement came as Ukraine, which rebuffed a Russian offensive on Kyiv, anticipates a renewed Kremlin attack on the east and south of the country.

Meanwhile, the country is investigating the alleged culpability of 500 Russian leaders for thousands of war crimes, including President Vladimir Putin, a top official has said.

Speaking on Britain’s Sky News, Ukrainian prosecutor general Iryna Venediktova said: “Of course what we see on the ground in all the regions of Ukraine, it is war crimes, crimes against humanity.”

Speaking in English, she said there was “full evidence” linking Russian forces to the missile attack yesterday on a train station at Kramatorsk, in eastern Ukraine, where officials said 52 people were killed.

“That’s why it will be one of the cases in our big profile,” Venediktova said.

“You know that now we started 5,600 cases in Ukraine on the above war crimes”, involving “500 suspects” from Russia’s government and military, she said.

“Vladimir Putin is the main war criminal of 21st century,” the official said, adding that as president, he may enjoy immunity from prosecution under international law but that would not last forever.

A week ago, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that he had created a “special mechanism” to investigate Russian “war crimes” in Ukraine, vowing to find and punish “everyone” responsible.

The mechanism would include national and international experts, investigators, prosecutors and judges, he said.

Officials in Kyiv have said that Ukraine is preparing for “big battles” against Moscow’s forces in the east of the country as thousands of civilians flee in fear of an imminent Russian offensive.

Evacuations resumed yesterday from Kramatorsk in eastern Ukraine, where the missile strike killed 52 people at a railway station.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a trip to Kyiv offered Ukraine armoured vehicles and anti-ship missiles to help ensure that the country will “never be invaded again”, he said. 

His offer came after President Zelenskyy said Kyiv was readying for a Russian onslaught.

“Sadly, in parallel we see the preparations for important battles, some people say decisive ones, in the east,” he said yesterday at a press conference with visiting Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer.

“We are ready to fight and to look in parallel to end this war through diplomacy.”

russia-ukraine-war An older woman waving from a bus during an evacuation of citizens yesterday in Kramatorsk, Ukraine. Andriy Andriyenko Andriy Andriyenko

Zelenskyy’s adviser Mykhaylo Podolyak said Ukraine must beat back Russia in the eastern Donbas region, where Moscow controls two separatist territories, before a meeting can take place between the Ukrainian leader and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Ukraine is ready for big battles. Ukraine must win them, including in the Donbas. And once that happens, Ukraine will have a more powerful negotiating position,” he said on national television, as quoted by the Interfax news agency.

“After that the presidents will meet. It could take two weeks, three.”

A video released by Zelenskyy’s office showed him and Johnson walking through largely empty city streets to Kyiv’s historic Maidan Square, as snipers kept watch.

The two men greeted passersby, and one visibly emotional man called out to Johnson: “We need you.”

Johnson said the discovery of scores of civilian bodies in Ukrainian towns had “permanently polluted” Putin’s reputation.

Six weeks into Russia’s invasion, Moscow has shifted its focus to eastern and southern Ukraine after stiff resistance thwarted plans to swiftly capture Kyiv.

With thousands killed in the fighting and more than 11 million fleeing their homes or the country, the Ukrainian president called on the West to follow Britain’s example on military aid.

“We need even more sanctions” against Russia, Zelenskyy said in a video address Saturday.

“We need more weapons for our state.”

Plea to evacuate

EU leaders were meeting with Zelenskyy in Kyiv on Friday as news emerged of the devastating attack on Kramatorsk’s station. The 52 victims included five children.

US President Joe Biden accused Russia of being behind a “horrific atrocity” in Kramatorsk, and France condemned the strike as a “crime against humanity”.

Moscow denied responsibility for the rocket attack, which also wounded 109 people, according to the latest official count.

As Russian forces regroup in the east and south of Ukraine, local officials are urging residents to flee before it is too late.

The mayor of eastern Lysychansk Oleksandr Zaika yesterday asked residents to evacuate as soon as possible due to constant shelling by the Russian army.

“It has become very difficult in the city, enemy shells are already flying,” Zaika said in a video message.

While the city had stocks of humanitarian aid, he added, “that doesn’t mean it will save your life if an enemy shell arrives”.

pm-johnsons-surprise-visit-to-kyiv Boris Johnson and Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv yesterday. ABACA / PA Images ABACA / PA Images / PA Images

And more Russian shells did arrive on Saturday, killing five people in the eastern cities of Vugledar and Novo Mikhaylovka, local governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said on Telegram.

Meanwhile, in Kramatorsk, minibuses assembled at a church to collect shaken evacuees. Almost 80 people, most of them elderly, sheltered in a building near the targeted station.

The Kramatorsk station was serving as the main evacuation hub for refugees from parts of the eastern Donbas region still under Ukrainian control.

AFP reporters at the station saw the remains of a missile tagged in white paint with the words “for our children” in Russian – an expression used by pro-Russian separatists to invoke their own losses since fighting in Donbas began in 2014.

The governor of Donetsk claimed a missile with cluster munitions – banned by an international treaty – was used in the attack, according to remarks published by the Interfax news agency.

Nato plans new force

Speaking yesterday from Warsaw, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said a global pledging event for Ukrainian refugees has raised €10.1 billion.

In another sign of Western solidarity, Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the military alliance was drawing up plans for a permanent military force on its border to prevent further Russian aggression.

“What we see now is a new reality, a new normal for European security. Therefore, we have now asked our military commanders to provide options for what we call a reset, a longer-term adaptation of Nato,” he said in an interview with Britain’s Daily Telegraph published Saturday.

He said the new force would be one of the “long-term consequences” of Putin’s invasion.

Russian troops appear intent on creating a long-sought land link between occupied Crimea and the Moscow-backed separatist territories of Donetsk and Luhansk in the Donbas region.

Growing evidence of atrocities has also galvanised Ukraine’s allies in the EU, which has approved an embargo on Russian coal, frozen billions in assets of sanctioned individuals and ordered the closure of its ports to Russian vessels.

Bucha – where authorities say hundreds were killed, some with their hands bound – has become a byword for the brutality allegedly inflicted under Russian occupation.

And Ukrainian officials say they are uncovering even greater devastation in nearby towns.

Fresh allegations also emerged from Obukhovychi, northwest of Kyiv, where villagers told AFP they were used as human shields.

Moscow has denied targeting civilians.

russian-war-on-ukraine-borodyanka Search and rescue workers at the wreckage of a residential building damaged by a Russian airstrike in Borodyanka of Bucha Raion, Kyiv Oblast. Daniel Ceng Shou-Yi Daniel Ceng Shou-Yi

Prisoner exchange

Ukraine said yesterday it had completed a third prisoner exchange with Russia, bringing 12 soldiers and 14 civilians home.

But Moscow said Russian troops also fired on a Ukrainian vessel trying to evacuate commanders of the Azov battalion from the besieged southeastern city of Mariupol.

The Azov Special Operations Detachment has been fighting Russian forces in Mariupol – scene of some of the war’s most grievous civilian suffering – as it lies between Russia-occupied Crimea and the pro-Russian separatist regions in Ukraine’s east.

Fighting has become increasingly fierce in the region as Russia redirects its focus.

The governor of Donetsk said that Russian shelling had also killed five civilians and wounded five others in two eastern Ukrainian cities yesterday.

Four of them died in the city of Vugledar, and one in the town of Novomikhaylovka, Pavlo Kyrylenko said in a Telegram post.

The Ukrainian army announced on Facebook that it had “destroyed four tanks, eight armoured vehicles and seven enemy vehicles”, as well as “a plane, a helicopter” and drones.

© AFP 2022

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