Ukrainian and British officials warned Saturday that Russian forces are relying on weapons able to cause mass casualties as they try to make headway in capturing eastern Ukraine and fierce, prolonged fighting depletes resources on both sides.
Russian bombers have likely been launching heavy 1960s-era anti-ship missiles in Ukraine, the UK Defence Ministry said. The Kh-22 missiles were primarily designed to destroy aircraft carriers using a nuclear warhead. When used in ground attacks with conventional warheads, they "are highly inaccurate and therefore can cause severe collateral damage and casualties," the ministry said.
Both sides have expended large amounts of weaponry in what has become a grinding war of attrition for the eastern region of coal mines and factories known as the Donbas, placing huge strains on their resources and stockpiles.
Russia is likely using the 5.5-tonne (6.1-ton) anti-ship missiles because it is running short of more precise modern missiles, the British ministry said. It gave no details of where exactly such missiles are thought to have been deployed.
As Russia also sought to consolidate its hold over territory seized so far in the 108-day war, the U.S. defense secretary said Moscow's invasion of Ukraine "is what happens when oppressors trample the rules that protect us all."
"It's what happens when big powers decide that their imperial appetites matter more than the rights of their peaceful neighbours," Lloyd Austin said during a visit to Asia. "And it's a preview of a possible world of chaos and turmoil that none of us would want to live in."
A Ukrainian governor accused Russia of using incendiary weapons in a village in the eastern province of Luhansk, southwest of the fiercely contested cities of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk.
While the use of flamethrowers on the battlefield is legal, Luhansk Gov. Serhii Haidai alleged the overnight attacks in Vrubivka caused widespread damage to civilian facilities and an unknown number of victims.
"At night, the enemy used a flamethrower rocket system - many houses burnt down," Haidai wrote on Telegram on Saturday. His claim could not be immediately verified.
Sievierodonetsk and neighboring Lysychansk are the last major areas of Luhansk remaining under Ukrainian control. Haidai said Russian forces destroyed railway depots, a brick factory and a glass factory.
The Ukrainian army said Saturday that Russian forces also were to launch an offensive on the city of Sloviansk in Donetsk province, which together with Luhansk makes up the Donbas,
Moscow-backed rebels have controlled self-proclaimed republics in both provinces since 2014.
During a visit to Kyiv by the European Union's top official, Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskyy called for a new round of "even stronger" EU sanctions against Russia.
Zelenskyy called for them to target more Russian officials, including judges, and to hamper the activities of all Russian banks, including that of gas giant Gazprom, as well as all Russian companies helping Moscow "in any way."
He spoke during a brief appearance with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen at the heavily guarded presidential office compound in Ukraine's capital.
The pair discussed Ukraine's aspirations for EU membership. Zelenskyy, speaking through a translator, said Ukraine "will do everything" to integrate with the bloc.
"Russia wants to divide Europe, wants to weaken Europe," he said.
Von der Leyen said the EU's executive arm was "working day and night" on an assessment of Ukraine's eligibility as a candidate. The goal is to share it with existing members next week.
Zelenskyy and some EU supporters want Ukraine admitted quickly.
Von der Leyen described the membership process as "a merit-based path" and appealed for Ukraine to strengthen its rule of law, fight corruption and modernize its institutions. She said the EU would assist with the country's reconstruction.
Zelenskyy said later, in his nightly video address, that fierce street battles were continuing in Sievierodonetsk and he was proud of the Ukrainian defenders who for weeks have held back the Russian advance.
"Remember how in Russia, in the beginning of May, they hoped to seize all of the Donbas?" the president said. "It's already the 108th day of the war, already June. Donbas is holding."
Zelenskyy said Russian forces are being pushed out of parts of the Kherson region they occupied early in the war. He also reported some success in the Zaporizhzhia region.
He added that no one knows how long the war will last, but Ukraine should do everything it can so the Russians "regret everything that they have done and that they answer for every killing and every strike on our beautiful state."
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