KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian authorities reported downing Ukrainian drones in Crimea on Saturday, while Ukrainian officials said Russian forces continued efforts to seize one of the few towns in the east of Ukraine which were not yet under their control and continued their strikes on communities in the north and south.
In Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014, Russian authorities said local air defenses shot down a drone over the headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. It was the second drone incident at headquarters in three weeks and followed explosions at a Russian airfield and ammunition dump on the peninsula earlier this month.
An aide to Crimean Governor Oleg Kryuchkov also said on Saturday that “attacks by small drones” triggered air defense systems in western Crimea. He did not specify. Russia now considers Crimea Russian territory, especially after building a huge bridge to the peninsula from the Russian mainland, but Ukrainian officials have never accepted its annexation by Russia.
Mikhail Razvozhaev, the governor of Sevastopol, the Crimean city where Russia’s Black Sea Fleet is based, said the drone shot down there fell on the roof of the fleet’s headquarters and did neither casualty or major damage.
But the incident underscored the vulnerability of Russian forces in Crimea. A drone attack on the Black Sea headquarters on July 31 injured five people and forced the cancellation of Russian Navy Day celebrations.
This week, a Russian ammunition depot in Crimea was hit by an explosion. Last week, nine Russian fighter jets were reportedly destroyed at an airbase in Crimea.
Ukrainian authorities have ceased to publicly claim responsibility. But President Volodymyr Zelenskyy hinted at Ukrainian attacks behind enemy lines after explosions in Crimea, which Russia blamed on “sabotage”.
Meanwhile, fighting in the southern regions of Ukraine, just north of Crimea, has intensified in recent weeks as Ukrainian forces attempt to drive Russian forces out of towns they have occupied since the start of the war that has been going on for six months.
Russian shelling injured at least nine people and damaged houses and a building in the town of Voznesensk, in the Mykolaiv region, the region’s governor, Vitaliy Kim, said on Saturday.
A Ukrainian airstrike hit targets in Melitopol, the largest city under Russian control in the Zaporizhzhia region, 100 kilometers (65 miles) north of Crimea, according to local Ukrainian and Russian officials installed.
The General Staff of the Ukrainian army said on Saturday that intensified fighting had taken place around Bakhmut, a small town whose capture would allow Russia to threaten the two largest towns still under Ukrainian control in the eastern region. of Donbass.
For weeks, Bakhmut has been a key target in Moscow’s eastern offensive as the Russian military tries to complete a months-long campaign to conquer the whole of Donbass, where pro-Moscow separatists have proclaimed two republics that Russia recognized as sovereign states at the start of the war.
A local Ukrainian official reported heavy fighting on Saturday near four settlements on the border of Lugansk and Donetsk provinces, which together form the disputed Donbass region. Luhansk Governor Serhii Haidai did not name the settlements. Russian forces overran almost all of Lugansk last month and have since focused on capturing Ukrainian-held areas of Donetsk.
Russian shelling killed seven civilians in Donetsk province on Friday, including four in Bakhmut, Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko wrote on Telegram on Saturday. Taking Bakhmut would give the Russians the opportunity to advance on the main Ukrainian towns in the province, Kramatorsk and Sloviansk.
Ukraine’s General Staff said Sloviansk and Kramatorsk were targeted on Friday, along with the northern Kharkiv region, home to Ukraine’s second-largest city.
Neither Moscow nor Kyiv commented on the Melitopol airstrike, but the head of the Russian-installed administration in Melitopol, Galina Danilchenko, confirmed on Saturday that the city had come under Ukrainian fire.
Ukrainian Mayor of Melitopol Ivan Ferodov said local Ukrainian authorities were collecting information about the strike.
“Tonight there were powerful explosions in Melitopol, which the whole city heard,” Ferodov said. “According to preliminary data, (it was) a precise hit on one of the Russian military bases, which the Russian fascists are trying to restore for the umpteenth time in the airfield area.”
Ukrainian officials indicated plans for a counter-offensive to recapture occupied areas in the south while Russia focused mainly on the east.
Local authorities reported renewed Russian shelling overnight along a broad front, including the northern regions of Kharkiv and Sumy, which border Russia, as well as the eastern region of Dnipropetrovsk and Mykolaiv.
Kozlowska reported from London.