- A missile hits a building in Mykolaiv
- Ukrainian forces on the offensive in the Kherson region
- Kherson is the gateway to Crimea annexed by Russia
- Western countries reject Russia’s ‘dirty bomb’ accusation
MYKOLAIV, Ukraine, Oct 24 (Reuters) – Russia fired missiles and drones at the southern Ukrainian town of Mykolaiv, destroying an apartment building, and said the war was heading towards “uncontrolled escalation” in a flurry of phone calls to Western defense ministers.
The strike on the shipbuilding town about 35 km (22 miles) northwest of the front line in Kherson came as Russia ordered 60,000 people to flee the area. “to save your lives” against a Ukrainian counter-offensive.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu spoke of the “rapidly deteriorating situation” in phone calls with his British, French and Turkish counterparts, the ministry said.
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He also spoke by telephone with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin for the second time in three days. The Pentagon said Austin told Shoigu he “dismisses any excuse for Russian escalation.”
Without providing evidence, Shoigu said Ukraine could escalate using a “dirty bomb” or conventional explosives containing radioactive material.
Ukraine does not have nuclear weapons, while Russia has said it could protect its territory with its nuclear arsenal.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba dismissed the accusation as “absurd” and “dangerous”, adding: “Russians often accuse others of what they themselves are up to.”
In a joint statement after the talks, Britain, France and the United States said they were committed to supporting Ukraine “for as long as it takes” and dismissed the warning from the Russia regarding a “dirty bomb”.
“Our countries have made it clear that we all reject Russia’s patently false allegations that Ukraine is preparing to use a dirty bomb on its own territory,” they said.
“The world would see through any attempt to use this allegation as a pretext for escalation.”
Sunday’s missile strike in Mykolaiv obliterated the top floor of the building, sending shrapnel and debris into a square and nearby buildings, Reuters witnessed. No deaths were recorded.
“After the first explosion, I tried to get out, but the door was stuck,” said Oleksandr Mezinov, 50, who was woken from his bed by the explosions. “After a minute or two there was a second loud blast. Our door was blown out into the hallway.”
On Sunday, Ukraine’s General Staff said anti-aircraft defenses had shot down 12 Iranian-made Russian Shahed-136 attack drones in the past 24 hours.
Tehran denies supplying arms to Russia.
Britain’s Ministry of Defense said Russia was using Iranian unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to replace increasingly scarce Russian-made long-range precision weapons.
But Ukraine’s efforts to contain the drones have been successful, the ministry added Monday in his Twitter update.
Ukraine’s advances in recent weeks around Kherson and in the northeast of the country have been met with an intensification of Russian missile and drone attacks on civilian infrastructure, which destroyed around 40% of Ukraine’s electricity system before Winter.
Russian troops have withdrawn from parts of the front and occupation authorities are evacuating civilians deeper into Russian-held territory ahead of an expected battle for Kherson, the regional capital on the west bank of the Dnipro.
Kherson is a gateway to Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014.
“The situation today is difficult. It is vital to save your lives,” Russian Education Minister Sergei Kravtsov said in a video message. “It won’t be for long. You will definitely come back.”
Russian-installed authorities reported an insufficient number of ships to transport people across the river at any given time on Sunday, blaming a “sharp increase in the number of people wanting to leave”.
About 25,000 people have been evacuated since Tuesday, the Interfax news agency said.
The Ukrainian army said it was advancing south, taking control of at least two villages it said Russia had abandoned.
The Russian Defense Ministry said on Sunday that its forces had continued attacks on Ukraine’s energy and military infrastructure, destroyed a major ammunition depot in the central Cherkasy region and repelled Ukrainian counteroffensives in the south and ballast.
Reuters could not independently verify the accounts.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Russian attacks on energy infrastructure hit on a “very large” scale.
As the war is about to enter its ninth month and winter approaches, the potential for freezing misery looms.
Volodymyr Kudritskiy, head of Ukraine’s national energy company, Ukrenergo, said power had been restored to more than 1.5 million customers after the weekend’s massive attacks on energy targets.
Moscow denies targeting civilians in what it calls the “special military operation” in Ukraine.
Ukraine has also accused Russia of obstructing an agreement on grain exports via the Black Sea, saying its ports were operating at only 25-30% capacity.
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Additional reporting by Jake Cordell and Valentyn Ogirenko in Mykolaiv; Written by Clarence Fernandez; Editing by Stephen Coates
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