KYIV/BAKHMUT, Ukraine (Reuters) – Ukraine’s recently liberated southern city of Kherson suffered intense mortar and artillery attacks from Russian forces across the Dnipro river, while the Kremlin rejected a Ukrainian peace plan, demanding that Kyiv accept its annexation of four regions.
Kherson has remained under bombardment from Russian forces which had retreated to the east bank of the river when the city was retaken in a major victory for Ukraine last month.
On Wednesday, the shelling hit the maternity wing of a hospital, though no-one was hurt, according to Kyrylo Tymoshenko, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s deputy chief of staff. Staff and patients were moved to a shelter, Tymoshenko said in a post on Telegram.
“It was frightening … the explosions began abruptly, the window handle started to tear off … oh, my hands are still shaking,” Olha Prysidko, a new mother, said. “When we came to the basement, the shelling wasn’t over. Not for a minute.”
Moscow has repeatedly denied targeting civilians.
Zelenskiy, in a video address, urged Ukrainians to hug loved ones, tell friends they appreciate them, support colleagues, thank their parents and rejoice with their children more often.
“We have not lost our humanity, although we have endured terrible months,” he said. “And we will not lose it, although there is a difficult year ahead.”
Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. Kyiv and its Western allies have denounced Russia’s actions as an imperialist-style land grab. Russian President Vladimir Putin calls it a “special military operation” to demilitarize its neighbour.
Sweeping sanctions have been imposed on Russia for the war, which has killed tens of thousands of people, driven millions from their homes, left cities in ruins and shaken the global economy, driving up energy and food prices.
Russian gas exports to Europe via pipelines collapsed to a post-Soviet low in 2022 as its largest customer cut imports due to the Ukraine conflict and a major pipeline was damaged by mysterious blasts, Gazprom data and Reuters calculations show.
There is still no prospect of talks to end the war.
Zelenskiy is vigorously pushing a 10-point peace plan that envisages Russia respecting Ukraine’s territorial integrity and pulling out all its troops.
But Moscow dismissed it on Wednesday, reiterating Kyiv must accept Russia’s annexation of the four regions – Luhansk and Donetsk in the east, and Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in the south.
There can be no peace plan “that does not take into account today’s realities regarding Russian territory, with the entry of four regions into Russia”, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Zelenskiy’s idea of driving Russia out of eastern Ukraine and Crimea with Western help and getting Moscow to pay damages to Kyiv is an “illusion”, the RIA news agency reported.
TASS cited Lavrov as saying that Russia would continue to build up its fighting strength and technological capabilities in Ukraine. He said that Moscow’s mobilised troops had undergone “serious training” and while many were now on the ground, the majority were not yet at the front.
Zelenskiy told parliament to remain united and praised Ukrainians for helping the West “find itself again”.
“Our national colours are today an international symbol of courage and indomitability of the whole world,” he said in an annual speech held behind closed doors.
On the battlefront, Russia shelled more than 25 settlements around Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, the General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said on Wednesday. The Kherson region, at the mouth of the Dnipro, serves as a gateway to Russian-annexed Crimea.
Heavy fighting persisted around the Ukrainian-held city of Bakhmut, in the eastern province of Donetsk, and to its north, around the cities of Svatove and Kreminna in Luhansk, where Ukrainian forces are trying to break Russian defensive lines.
Britain’s defence ministry said Russia had likely reinforced the Kreminna section of the frontline as it is logistically important and relatively vulnerable following Ukrainian advances further west.
Kyiv-based military analyst Oleh Zhdanov noted that Kharkiv city and region had also come under heavy attacks which damaged a regional gas pipeline.
Kharkiv Mayor Ihor Terekhov said in a Telegram post that the city had come under attack twice, “presumably” from Iranian Shahed drones, five of which Ukraine’s eastern air command separately reported downing over the city of Dnipro.
Reuters was unable to verify battlefield reports.
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