KYIV, July 27 (AP): Ukrainian troops have struck a strategic bridge essential for Moscow to supply its forces occupying the country’s south, as Russia pounded several areas in Ukraine with rocket and artillery strikes.
The Ukrainian military struck the Antonivskyi Bridge across the Dnieper River late on Tuesday, the deputy head of the Moscow-appointed administration for the Kherson region, Kirill Stremousov, said.
He said the bridge was still standing but its deck was pierced with holes, stopping vehicles from crossing.
The 1.4-kilometre bridge sustained serious damage in Ukrainian shelling last week, when it took multiple hits. It was closed for trucks but had remained open for passenger vehicles until the strike late on Tuesday.
Ukrainian forces used the US-supplied HIMARS multiple rocket launchers to hit the bridge, Stremousov said.
The bridge is the main crossing across the Dnieper River in the Kherson region. The only other option is a dam at the hydroelectric plant in Kakhovka, which also came under Ukrainian fire last week but has remained open for traffic.
Knocking the crossings out would make it hard for the Russian military to keep supplying its forces in the region amid repeated Ukrainian attacks.
Early in the war, Russian troops quickly overran the Kherson region just north of the Crimean Peninsula that Russia annexed in 2014. They have faced Ukrainian counterattacks, but have largely held their ground.
The Ukrainian attacks on the bridge in Kherson come as the bulk of the Russian forces are stuck in the fighting in Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland of Donbas where they have made slow gains in the face of ferocious Ukrainian resistance.
Supplies of US weapons such as HIMARS have helped slow the Russian advances.
Russian forces kept up their artillery barrage in the eastern Donetsk region, targeting towns and villages, according to regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko.
In Bakhmut, a key city on the front line of the Russian offensive, the shelling damaged a hotel and caused casualties, Kyrylenko said. A rescue operation was under way.
Amid Moscow’s push to take full control of the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions, Russian have gained marginal ground northeast of Bakhmut, according to a Washington DC-based think tank.
Russian forces, however, are unlikely to occupy significant additional territory in Ukraine “before the early autumn”, the Institute for the Study of War said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy claimed that Russian military losses have climbed to nearly 40,000, adding that tens of thousands more were wounded and maimed. His claim couldn’t be independently verified.
The Russian military last reported its losses in March, when it said that 1,351 troops were killed in action and 3,825 were wounded.