Ukraine and Russia trade intense cross-border strikes as air war heats up

Ukraine and Russia trade intense cross-border strikes as air war heats up

Ukraine and Russia are trading intensifying air attacks as they pound border regions with rockets, bombs and missiles.

In recent months, the war has increasingly moved from the battlefield to air attacks on each other’s military, energy and transport infrastructure.

On the Ukraine side, President Volodymyr Zelensky said that Russia had dropped 200 guided bombs since the start of the month on the communities around Sumy in the northeast, while, in the latest strike by Moscow, a missile hit the city of Kharkiv, about 100 miles from Sumy. At least five people were killed.

In the Russian region of Belgorod, directly across the border from Kharkiv – with about 60 miles between the two, Russia’s defence ministry said that it intercepted 13 Ukrainian rockets on Wednesday. The local governor, Vyacheslav Gladkov, said that three people were killed and two others were wounded, including a 17-year-old girl, in “massive shelling” of Belgorod city, the regional capital. He said that 16 people have been killed over the past week alone.

People have been asked to evacuate on both the Ukrainian and Russian sides of the border.

Authorities in the Ukrainian city of Sumy said there had been 30 instances of shelling during the day on Tuesday. One person had been killed in the border community of Velyka Pysarivka, focal point of an evacuation which got under way last week. About 200 people have been evacuated from the endangered areas near Velyka Pysarivka in the past week, Ukrainian local officials said.

Russian president Vladimir Putin vowed on Wednesday to provide support for Belgorod civilians. “There is a lot to do and we will do everything which depends on us,” he said at a televised meeting at the Kremlin. “Of course, the primary task is to ensure safety. There are different ways to do this. They are not easy, but we will do it.”

The strikes by Ukraine have been embarrassing for the Russian leader, given the advantage Moscow has in the number of rockets, missiles, ammunition and drones it can call upon. For Ukraine, facing a difficult situation along a number of areas of the 600-mile frontline as it deals with shortages of ammunition thanks to delays in fresh military aid coming from the US, the strikes provide a way to try and slow Russia's war machine. Kyiv has stepped up aerial attacks in recent months, with Moscow having repeatedly targeted Ukrainian cities since Putin launched his invasion two years ago.

A man inspects damage to a shop following fresh aerial attacks in Belgorod (Getty)
A man inspects damage to a shop following fresh aerial attacks in Belgorod (Getty)

Drones is also an area of military technology that Ukraine has seen success with. On Wednesday, a source told numerous outlets that drones operated by the GUR military intelligence agency attacked the Engels air base deep inside Russian territory, hundreds of miles from the border.

The governor of the Saratov region, where the base is located, claimed Ukrainian drones had been downed near the city of Engels. “The results are being verified,” the Ukrainian source said of the attack. The base is the main home of Russia’s long-range strategic bomber fleet and is located near the city of Saratov – about 450 miles southeast of Moscow. Three Russian air force personnel died in December 2022 when a drone believed to be Ukrainian was shot down at the Saratov base.

Meanwhile, the head of a UN reporting mission in Ukraine accused Russia of illegally consolidating its control over occupied Ukrainian territory by creating a “climate of fear” with practices such as arbitrary detention, killings and torture.

Speaking as a comprehensive UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU) report on the territories Russia currently occupies was released, the mission’s head, Danielle Bell, told Reuters that Moscow’s breaches of rights there were used to terrify local residents into co-operating.

“These combined actions of censorship, surveillance, political oppression, repression of free speech, movement restrictions ... created a climate of fear in which the Russian Federation could systematically dismantle the Ukrainian systems of government and administration,” she said.

Speaking at the UN Human Rights Council after the report’s publication, Russian senior diplomat Igor Sergeev accused UN human rights bodies of double standards and of turning a blind eye to violations committed by Kyiv. Moscow has repeatedly denied accusations that its forces have committed atrocities or deliberately attacked civilians during the invasion.

Russia currently controls around 20 per cent of Ukraine’s territory, where several million people remain. The UN monitors had no access to occupied territory, but instead based their findings on more than 2,300 interviews with people who were living in occupied territories, had left occupied territory, or lived in liberated areas.

Ms Bell said there had been an initial phase of rights violations, including killings, torture and arbitrary detention of those perceived to be linked to Ukrainian security forces or those believed to be supporting Ukraine. That was followed by campaigns against freedoms of movement, assembly and expression, she said. These were followed by a push to change all major state institutions into Russian ones, something Ms Bell said violated international humanitarian law. Moscow has denied this.

Ms Bell said residents in occupied areas were encouraged to spy on each other and that Russia had sought to cut communication links between Ukrainians in occupied areas and those in territories controlled by Kyiv.

Reuters and AP contributed to this report