Russia consolidates gains in eastern Ukraine

Russian forces yesterday cemented their gains in eastern Ukraine and probed the defense of potential new targets as Ukrainian forces hoisted their national flag on a recaptured Black Sea island as a symbol of resistance to Moscow.

Moscow responded quickly to the flag ceremony. It was said that one of his fighter jets struck Snake Island shortly thereafter, destroying part of the Ukrainian detachment there.

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The tiny island, located about 140 km south of the Ukrainian port city of Odessa, is strategically important as it guards sea routes. Russia gave up what it described as a goodwill gesture in late June – a victory for Ukraine that Kyiv hoped could ease Moscow’s blockade of Ukrainian ports.

Pictures released yesterday by Ukraine’s Interior Ministry showed three Ukrainian soldiers raising the blue and yellow national flag on a patch of land on Snake Island next to the remains of a collapsed building.

Russia’s missile attack on the island’s new residents caused significant damage to their dock, Odessa regional administration spokesman Serhiy Bratchuk said.

Bratchuk said two other Russian missiles hit and destroyed two grain warehouses containing 35 tons of grain in his region.

In Moscow, the Russian Defense Ministry said several Ukrainian troops landed on the island before dawn and took photos with the flag.

Russian forces in eastern Ukraine, meanwhile, kept up the pressure on Ukrainian troops trying to hold the line along the northern borders of the Donetsk region in preparation for an expected broader new offensive against them.

At least seven civilians were killed and two others wounded in Russian attacks in the Donetsk region, regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said yesterday.

At least one person was killed and several others injured in bombing raids in Kramatorsk, an administrative center in Ukraine’s eastern region, according to AFP journalists.

After capturing the city of Lysyhansk on Sunday and effectively consolidating its total control over Ukraine’s Luhansk Oblast, Moscow has made it clear that it plans to seize parts of neighboring Donetsk Oblast that it has not yet captured. Kyiv still controls some large cities.

The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said Russian forces would move more units to the Lugansk region to consolidate control of Moscow there.

The US-based Institute for the Study of War said Russia has not appeared to have conquered any new territory since taking Lysychank on Sunday.

It noted that “Russian forces are on pause in operations while continuing to conduct limited ground attacks to create conditions for more significant offensive operations.”

A controversial cargo ship carrying grain allegedly stolen from Ukraine has returned to Russian territorial waters, Turkish sources told AFP yesterday, prompting angry condemnation from Kyiv.

Website marinetraffic.com showed Zhibek Zholy moving at least 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Turkey’s Black Sea port of Karasu before apparently turning off his transponder and disappearing from sight.

Two Turkish sources said the ship was en route to Russia’s port of Kavkaz on the edge of a strait separating the mainland from Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula, annexed by the Kremlin.

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