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Ukraine ‘targets critical bridge’ built by Putin as counteroffensive ‘breaks through on southern front’

Russia says Ukraine has targetted a critical bridge that links the country to annexed Crimea, as Kyiv says its counteroffensive has broken through on the southern front.

Russia’s defence ministry said its forces had destroyed three Ukrainian drones attempting to attack the Kerch bridge – forcing closure for the third time in a year – with one drone intercepted late on Friday and two others early on Saturday.

Serving as a key supply route for Kremlin forces, the bridge has been attacked repeatedly, Russian authorities claim. In October, an explosion involving a truck bomb is believed to have killed three people, with a subsequent attack in July killing a couple and seriously injuring their daughter. A part of the road was further left hanging in a precarious position.

Black smoke billows from a fire on the Kerch bridge that links Crimea to Russia after a truck exploded, October 2022 (AFP via Getty Images)
Black smoke billows from a fire on the Kerch bridge that links Crimea to Russia after a truck exploded, October 2022 (AFP via Getty Images)

Meanwhile, a civilian was killed and two were wounded during shelling in the Belgorod region in Russia, which borders Ukraine, governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said. Two Ukrainian drones attacked the region’s Valuysky district, damaging a home and a car as another was intercepted in the Grayvoronsky district.

The Ukrainian military said on Saturday that Russia had launched four missile strikes and 39 air strikes over the previous 24 hours, in addition to 42 attacks from multiple rocket launchers.

One person was killed and two were wounded during shelling of Ukraine’s southern Kherson region, according to governor Oleh Prokudin. Further north, a 32-year-old police investigator was killed and two other people were wounded when shells hit the town of Seredyna-Buda in the northeast Sumy region.

Kryvyi Rih mayor Oleksandr Vilkul said the anti-aircraft defence in the central Ukrainian city, which is President Volodymyr Zelensky’s hometown, had successfully thwarted a strike, without specifying the nature of the attack. Another four people were wounded following attacks on the eastern city of Donetsk, Moscow-installed mayor Aleksei Kulemzin alleged.

It comes as UK military officials now believe that Russia risks having to split its forces in an attempt to prevent a Ukrainian breakthrough in the south of the country.

Ukraine’s deputy defence minister Hanna Maliar said Ukrainian troops were progressing in the Zaporizhzhia region, with forces taking offensive action on the Orikhiv axis in southern Ukraine.

The White House confirmed Ms Maliar’s statements as it noted “notable success” in the Zaporizhzhia area, though she warned that Ukrainian troops had pushed through to heavily fortified lines of Russian defence following the breakthrough.

President Zelensky said the country’s troops were “moving forward” as part of their long-anticipated counteroffensive, appearing to rebuff Western officials who have suggested that Ukraine has been too slow to recapture ground from Moscow.

Ukraine’s military forces further reported a total of 45 combat clashes on front lines in the 24 hours between Friday and Saturday evening.

The counteroffensive has successfully reclaimed more than a dozen villages. However, Ukrainian soldiers have been impeded by extensive Russian minefields and defensive lines, and the gains do not encompass any major settlement.

Moscow has labelled the Ukrainian counteroffensive a failure, with Kyiv asserting that it has purposefully advanced slowly to minimise losses on the battlefield.

“Ukrainian forces are moving forward. Despite everything, and no matter what anyone says, we are advancing, and that is the most important thing. We are on the move,” Mr Zelensky wrote on the Telegram messaging app. Ukrainian military confirmed further advances towards Melitopol, a major Russian-occupied urban centre in the Zaporizhzhia region.

Elsewhere, Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to President Zelensky, warned that drone strikes on Russian soil were only set to increase, adding that Ukraine has ramped-up attacks on Russian-occupied areas.

Mr Podolyak noted that Ukraine would also escalate attacks in Russia itself. However, Kyiv does not generally directly claim attacks outside of Ukraine, with Mr Podolyak saying such strikes would be carried out by “agents” or “partisans”.

“As for Russia ... there is an increasing number of attacks by unidentified drones launched from the territory of the Russian Federation, and the number of these attacks will increase,” Mr Podolyak told Reuters. “This is the stage of the war when hostilities are gradually being transferred to the territory of the Russian Federation.”