Ukraine War Expands Beyond Established Battlefields

by Joe Holman
Ukraine War Expands Beyond Established Battlefields

Ukrainian forces struck two bridges connecting Russian-occupied Crimea to the rest of Ukraine on Sunday, part of a broader pattern of attacks on and around the peninsula that has sought to scramble critical supply routes for the Kremlin and push the scope of the war into fresh territory.

One of the strikes tore three holes in the roadway of the Chonhar Bridge, which links Crimea to the Russian-occupied Kherson region, forcing it to close to traffic, according to the Russian-backed governor of the region, Vladimir Saldo. The same bridge was struck by Ukrainian forces in June, Russian-backed officials said.

Sunday’s attacks also injured a driver and closed traffic on a second bridge to the east of Chonhar, near the small town of Henichesk, Mr. Saldo said. A gas pipeline near the bridge was damaged, cutting off supplies to more than 20,000 people, he added.

The load-bearing structure of the Chonhar Bridge was not damaged, and traffic on the Henichesk Bridge was to be restored by the end of the day, Mr. Saldo said. His claims about the extent of the damage could not be independently verified.

Ukraine’s armed forces took credit for both strikes on Sunday, in another departure from their typically coy approach as President Volodymyr Zelensky and other top officials emphasize that their new aim is to force ordinary Russians to face up to the Kremlin’s war.

The bridge attacks came the same day that Russian air defenses shot down a hostile drone that had been approaching Moscow, according to a brief statement on the Telegram messaging app posted by the city’s mayor, Sergei S. Sobyanin. The claim has not been independently verified, and Ukrainian officials did not immediately comment. At the same time, the Vnukovo airport, which serves Moscow, temporarily suspended flights for “security reasons,” according to a Telegram post from the Russian state news agency Tass.

The Russian authorities gave no further details about the drone on Sunday. But this past week, they accused Ukraine of twice launching drone strikes that damaged a high-rise in Moscow housing government ministries. Those appeared to be part of an increasingly brazen pattern of attacks on Russian territory including one, in May, in which a drone struck the Kremlin.

Russia has taken steps to intensify attacks on different areas of Ukraine. For a year, the port city of Odesa, crucial before the war for exports of Ukrainian grain, was largely spared Russian strikes. But since Moscow terminated a wartime deal three weeks ago that had allowed Ukraine to continue to ship its grain and other foodstuffs across the Black Sea, Russian forces have struck the port repeatedly, damaging facilities and grain stocks.

The goal has been to thwart any possible attempt by Ukraine to export its produce unilaterally across waters dominated by the Russian Navy.

In addition, Russian missiles have struck Ukraine’s ports on the Danube River in recent days. The ports, while smaller than the one at Odesa, provide a crucial alternative export route for millions of tons of grain. Again, the aim appeared to be to complicate the transport of crops important both for Ukraine’s economy and for global markets.

On Sunday, Ukraine’s air force said on Telegram that the country’s air defenses had shot down 30 cruise missiles and 27 drones overnight.

Russia launched an aerial attack on Khmelnytskyi, in central Ukraine, causing damage to buildings but no casualties, according to Serhiy Tyurin, deputy head of the regional military administration there. The region, which is west of the Dnipro River, had largely escaped unscathed up to now.

Igor Konashenkov, spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry, said that Russia had used precision weapons to strike Ukrainian military air bases near the city of Starokostiantyniv, in the western Khmelnytskyi region, and also in Dubno, in the northwestern Rivne region. It was not possible immediately to verify the claims independently.

Despite the high toll of the war on both countries’ militaries and also on Ukrainian civilians — more than 9,000 of whom have been killed, according to United Nations data — talks to end the fighting have yet to yield any significant progress.

This is in part because both sides are seeking to make territorial gains on the battlefield. Mr. Zelensky has also proposed a peace formula that includes a Russian cessation of hostilities and Moscow’s withdrawal from the entirety of Ukrainian territory, including Crimea, demands the Kremlin flatly rejects.

As part of a diplomatic push, however, representatives from Ukraine and from about 40 other countries — with the notable exception of Russia — gathered in Saudi Arabia over the weekend in an effort to build international consensus for a peace settlement.

In addition to the United States and European countries, notable attendees included Brazil, China, India and South Africa, known collectively as BRICS, as well as some of the oil-rich Persian Gulf nations that have tried to maintain good relations with both Ukraine and Russia throughout the war. Mr. Zelensky’s office said Sunday that the meeting had been a “step toward the practical implementation of peace initiatives proposed by Ukraine.”

China, which has cast itself as neutral, was open to the idea of holding further discussions, according to a European Union official. Victoria Nuland, the acting U.S. deputy secretary of state for political affairs, met with the leader of the Chinese delegation during the talks, according to Biden administration officials who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to let Saudi and Ukrainian officials speak for the conference.

Russia will discuss the results of the talks with other BRICS nations that participated in the meeting, Sergei A. Ryabkov, the Russian deputy foreign minister, told Tass on Sunday.

As the talks took place, a Russian aerial guided bomb struck the Kupiansk district in the northeastern region of Kharkiv late on Saturday and sparked a fire, killing at least two people, according to Oleg Sinegubov, the head of the regional administration.

A third person — a 58-year-old woman — was killed on Sunday after further Russian shelling in Kupiansk, Mr. Sinegubov said on Telegram. There was no independent confirmation of the attacks.

In June, Ukraine launched a new counteroffensive, for which its forces had prepared for months, aiming to cut off Russian forces in southern Ukraine from land they control in the east. Both sides have sustained significant casualties as Ukraine battles to penetrate Russian defenses, and two women in the eastern region of Donetsk were killed by Ukrainian shelling on Saturday, the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti said, citing the region’s Russian-installed leader Denis Pushilin. The report could not be independently verified.

In his nightly address on Sunday, which was Ukrainian Air Force Day, Mr. Zelensky praised the work of soldiers fighting aerial battles against Russian missiles and drones with advanced air defense systems from international allies.

“In our skies, we can prove that terror is losing,” Mr. Zelensky said, adding, “Ukraine can win this battle, and our sky shield will eventually guarantee security for the whole of Europe.”

Matina Stevis-Gridneff and Michael Crowley contributed reporting.

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