Day 453 of the Invasion of Ukraine: Russian Missile and Drone attacks in several Ukrainian Cities
Day 453 of the invasion of Ukraine. Summary of key events in the last 24 hours:
- Russia is digging trenches and setting dragon's teeth in Crimea in fear of a Ukrainian offensive
- Codename "Storm" - Russia deploys an elite air group against Ukraine
- Kyiv said Ukrainian troops were advancing around Bakhmut and Russia is building up forces
- The Zaporizhzhia NPP was disconnected from the electricity grid
- Russia sent missiles and drones against Dnipro, Odesa and Mykolaiv, Ukraine allegedly shot down Su-35 over the Black Sea
- Zelensky: To date, Bakhmut is not occupied by Russia
- The Russian ambassador to the US with a warning about the F-16
- Biden: Zelensky gave "firm assurance" to the US that F-16s will not be used against Russian territory
- Belgium will train Ukrainian F-16 pilots, but will not provide fighter jets to Kyiv
Russia is digging trenches and setting draconian teeth in Crimea in fear of a Ukrainian offensive
The Russian army is digging trenches in the annexed Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea and drawing defense lines with the help of pyramids - "dragon's teeth", apparently worried that a future Ukrainian offensive will spill over into the territory of the peninsula, the BBC reports in a report with satellite analysis by the BBC Verify. A program team has uncovered some of the large-scale defensive facilities built by Russia in preparation to meet a major Ukrainian counter-offensive. After months of standoff without a winner, the expected counteroffensive will be a crucial test for Ukraine as it tries to prove it can make significant gains on the battlefield with the weapons it has received from the West, the media said.
By examining hundreds of satellite images, the BBC team has identified some key points in the large-scale concentration of trenches and other fortifications in southern Ukraine since October. Four locations chosen by the investigators give an idea of what Russia expects from the Ukrainian counter-offensive and what awaits Ukrainian forces on the ground. Here are the most important points.
1. The western coast of Crimea
Annexed in 2014 by Russia, Crimea was previously known for its seaside resorts. Now, instead of deckchairs and umbrellas, the 25 km coastline is dotted with protective structures installed by Russian troops. Satellite view shows an open sandy beach on the West Bank with no natural defenses such as rocks or hills. A satellite image with overlays reveals the construction of a network of ditches and defenses from the so-called "dragon's teeth" as well as a built bunker. The concrete pyramids are designed to block the path of tanks and other military vehicles. Behind the dragon's teeth is a line of trenches providing cover against counterattacks. Several bunkers can also be seen along the trenches. Piles of wood, mining machines and dragon teeth stored along the coast are also seen. Some military experts suggest that the defenses being built are a preventive measure and not necessarily a sign that Russia expects to fend off an attack from the sea, as Ukraine has little naval capacity.
However, intelligence analyst Leila Guest said: "The fortifications are likely in place to deter any bold Ukrainian operation to attack Crimea by sea, not by land."
BBC Verify was able to identify other key fortification sites by pinpointing individual dig locations from videos on social media.
Once the exact location was found, it was possible to trace an entire network of excavations using satellite imagery.
The small town of Tokmak is on a key road in the country's southeast, which Ukrainian forces may try to use to cut off Crimea from Russian-controlled territories.
There are reports that Ukrainian civilians have been displaced to turn the city into a military stronghold. This would give the soldiers access to supplies and a base to retreat to. A satellite image of Tokmak with overlays highlights two lines of trenches and a ring of additional defenses around the city.
Behind the moats there is an additional ring of fortifications around the city with three rings of defenses that can be seen on a zoomed-in satellite image. It is very likely that there are minefields between the three defense lines of Tokmak, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "Minefields are a standard part of any defense and the Russians used them extensively throughout the war."
3. Highway E105
A line of anti-tank ditches and trenches now runs along a 35 kilometer stretch of the E105 main highway, west of Tokmak. Satellite image showing the E105 highway, with overlays revealing anti-tank ditches and a network of trenches.
The E105 is a strategically important road that connects Russian-controlled Melitopol in the south with the northern Ukrainian-controlled city of Kharkiv. Whoever has control of the road can easily move troops around the region. If Ukrainian forces try to use this road, Russia will likely cover it with heavy artillery. Russia also controls another nearby road - the T401 - which could also be attacked.
"The Russians are worried about the recently created Ukrainian armored units. If these parts manage to get onto a major highway, they can move very quickly," experts say. The Russian defense aims to push them off the roads to slow them down.
4. Rivnopil, north of Mariupol
The port of Mariupol has a strategic position between the Russian-occupied territories to the east and Crimea to the south. It also became a symbol of resistance to the invasion, when a hard core of fighters held out for months while the city was besieged. With Russia expecting Ukraine to try to take it over, BBC Verify decided to take a look at the area around the city - leading to the discovery of a 'collection' of circular trenches.
In the area of the small village of Rivnopil, about 55 km north of Mariupol, facilities were built, each trench having a mound of earth in the middle, probably either to protect the artillery or to keep the guns stable. Air Force analysts have counted 8 artillery positions in the area.
Meanwhile, circular trenches allowed soldiers to take cover and move artillery so that it could be aimed in any direction. This shows that Russia is preparing to defend open territories (without the natural protection of hills and rivers) with a wider network of defensive facilities.
Some analysts note that Ukrainian forces could use similar satellite imagery and drone surveillance to identify and bypass many of these defenses. Alexander Lord, of strategic consultancy Sibylline Ltd, said: "The Russians are likely to try to direct Ukrainian forces along certain routes that are heavily mined and pre-positioned under the sights of Russian artillery".
Codename "Storm" - Russia deploys an elite air group against Ukraine
Russia intends to create a new "elite" strike group codenamed "Storm" to carry out tasks in the war against Ukraine.
This is written by the British Ministry of Defense, referring to its intelligence data.
The new air group is likely to consist of at least one squadron of Su-24 and Su-34 fighter-bombers, as well as a squadron of attack helicopters.
"The combination of aircraft types suggests that the group will play a major role in ground attacks," British intelligence wrote.
It is noted that the Russian Ministry of Defense wants to attract qualified and motivated pilots by offering them high salaries, and also opens a recruitment for retired pilots.
"The creation of the group testifies to the Russians' assessment that their regular air force squadrons have seriously failed in their primary function of conducting airstrikes against Ukrainian positions," the intelligence noted.
Kyiv said Ukrainian troops were advancing around Bakhmut and Russia is building up forces
Ukraine said on Monday that its troops were still advancing on the flanks of the devastated eastern city of Bakhmut, although the "intensity" of their movement had decreased and Russia was bringing in more forces, Reuters reported.
Russia announced on Saturday that it had fully captured Bakhmut, but Ukrainian officials said Kyiv's forces still controlled a small part of the city.
Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar reiterated Monday that Ukraine has little foothold in the city itself.
"Through our movement on the flanks - north and south - we manage to destroy the enemy, she said in televised comments. By moving on the flanks and occupying certain heights there, our armed forces made it very difficult to hold the enemy in the city itself.”
"We are still advancing, but the intensity is a bit reduced. If we are talking about the North, there is much less active action there. If we are talking about the South, we are making progress, and the defense of Bakhmut as a city has completely fulfilled its military purpose."
Reuters notes that it has not been able to verify the situation on the battlefield.
Malyar later wrote in a Telegram post that Ukrainian troops still control "some private facilities and the private sector in the Lytak region."
"The enemy is sweeping the areas of the city under his control. The fight for dominant heights continues on the flanks - north and south of the suburbs. Our fighters do not give the enemy the opportunity to gain a foothold there."
Reiterating Kyiv's goals in defending Bakhmut, she wrote: "The potential for the enemy's offensive has been significantly reduced, the enemy has suffered huge losses (and) we have gained time for certain actions that will be discussed later."
Meanwhile, the founder of Russia's private military company Wagner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said today that his units would leave Bakhmut, which they said on Saturday they had captured, from May 25 to June 1.
The Zaporizhzhia NPP was disconnected from the electricity grid
The Zaporizhzhia NPP in southeastern Ukraine has been disconnected from the power grid and switched to backup power mode, TASS reported, citing the Russian-appointed management of Europe's largest nuclear power plant.
"As a result of the interruption of the 750-watt Dnieper high-voltage line, the Zaporizhzhia NPP was left without external power supply. The power supply for its own needs is provided by diesel generators. The reasons for the line interruption are being clarified," reads the message published on "Telegram" and quoted from BTA.
The Russian-appointed management of the Zaporizhzhia NPP clarified that the radiation background at the site of the nuclear power plant, in the sanitary-security zone and the monitoring zone is within the norms.
The Ukrainian state nuclear operator "Energoatom" confirmed to "Reuters" that the power supply at the Zaporizhzhia NPP has been interrupted.
"Yes, we have the seventh blackout since the beginning of the (Russian) occupation," said a company source.
After that, Energoatom announced that the cause was Russian shelling of the Dnieper high-voltage line, Reuters reported.
So far, there is no comment on this statement from the Russian side. The Zaporizhzhia NPP is located a few kilometers from Melitopol. Russia seized the plant shortly after its invasion of Ukraine in late February last year. In October, President Vladimir Putin signed a decree declaring the Zaporizhzhia NPP to be Russian federal property. Russia has declared Zaporizhzhia Oblast as annexed, although it has only captured part of the southeastern Ukrainian region. The occupation authorities are based in Melitopol, as the regional administrative center of Zaporizhzhia remains under Ukrainian control.
Earlier this month, Russia evacuated civilians from Melitopol in anticipation of a Ukrainian counteroffensive in the area.
Local authorities in Zaporizhzhia reported this morning that there was no electricity in some areas. Air raid sirens sounded that night in the city where explosions were heard.
However, the governor of the Zaporizhzhia region, Yury Malashko, specified that the partial blackout in the regional administrative center was not due to a Russian attack, but to a fire in a facility due to an overload of the electricity system.
At least 3 people killed, eight people were injured and dozens of buildings damaged in a Russian airstrike overnight in the Dnipropetrovsk region, Ukraine said on Monday, adding that air defense systems had destroyed 20 drones and four cruise missiles, Reuters reported. Amid a looming Ukrainian counteroffensive, Russia stepped up its missile and drone strikes this month after a nearly two-month lull. Waves of attacks come several times a week.
"The Russian invaders attacked military and infrastructure facilities in the eastern outpost of Ukraine - the city of Dnipro," the Air Force of Ukraine reported on Telegram.
"The attack was carried out by 16 different types of missiles and 20 Shahed-136/131 attack drones," the air force said, adding that air defenses shot down 20 Russian drones and four cruise missiles.
Overnight, air defense shot down 15 UAVs and 4 cruise missiles over Dnipropetrovsk region. Unfortunately several hits were registered: a private enterprise was hit and 3 buildings were damaged. 9 apartment buildings, 3 private houses a kindergarten and an administrative building… pic.twitter.com/FZBFAtPgST— NOELREPORTS ???????? ???????? (@NOELreports) May 22, 2023
Russia sent missiles and drones against Dnipro, Odesa and Mykolaiv, Ukraine allegedly shot down Su-35 over the Black Sea
The Ukrainian city of Dnipro was subjected to a massive air attack with missiles and drones last night. There are reports of damage and casualties in Dnipro, but local authorities have reported that the damage is being determined. "Fascists, terrorists, subhumans. But thanks to the armed forces, we held off the attack," wrote the head of the Dnipropetrovsk regional administration, Sergey Lisak. At the same time, a Ukrainian source reported that a Russian Su-35 multipurpose fighter was shot down over the Black Sea.
At 2:42 a.m. Kyiv time, an air alert was declared on the territory of the entire country, which ended at 5:09 a.m., during which time there were reports of explosions in Dnipro and Zaporizhzhia.
According to the information channel “Труха”, 15 unmanned aerial vehicles and 4 cruise missiles were shot down in Dnipro alone. The same source reported a 27-year-old man injured as a result of a rocket attack, who is in the hospital in a moderate condition. Several buildings of the rescue services were damaged, 10 vehicles of the rescue services were destroyed - cars and trucks, as well as 25 private cars and two buses. 7 people were injured after the fall of a drone in the Ilarionovska municipality of the Sinelnikov region, 3 houses and 9 residential blocks, a kindergarten, a shop and an administrative building were affected.
Launches of X-101 missiles by aircraft of the strategic aviation of Russia from the Caspian Sea region and of S-300 from Belgorod were registered. The Security Service of Ukraine shut down access to Instagram during the attacks in order not to leak information about the work of the Air Defense.
During the night, the head of the press service of the Kherson Defense Forces VSU, Dmytro Pletenchuk, announced the downing of a Russian Su-35 multipurpose fighter. "The sight of the downed Su-35 was incredible. Air defense is a force. The night got more interesting," wrote Pletenchuk, but soon after deleted his Facebook message - according to comments on the network - for inordinately providing information. However, 1 downed plane appears in the morning report to the General Staff. The “ТСН” television channel added on Monday morning that the plane was armed with guided aerial bombs and after being hit it fell into the Black Sea near Zaliznyi Port. The pilots are dead.
The RBC-Ukraine news agency reported that during the more than 90-minute air raid alert in Dnipro, about 15 explosions were heard. Reuters has not been able to independently verify this information.
This month, Russia resumed missile and drone strikes after a nearly two-month lull amid expectations of a Ukrainian counteroffensive. Strikes are now being reported several times a week.
Meanwhile, an analysis of satellite data by the BBC shows the massive fortifications being built in Russia in anticipation of a Ukrainian counter-offensive.
Hundreds of images taken since October were analyzed, showing areas with extensive trenches and fortifications. According to the BBC, there are four locations that Russia has approached with particular attention, and where it is likely to expect the most serious breakthroughs. These are the western coast of Crimea, the cities of Tokmak and Rivnopil, as well as the E105 highway, where a system of trenches with a length of 35 km is visible.
The expected counteroffensive is likely to be a crucial test for Ukraine as it seeks to prove that it can win significant victories on the battlefield thanks to the weapons it receives from the West.
Zelensky: To date, Bakhmut is not occupied by Russia
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced at the G-7 summit that "as of today, Bakhmut is not occupied by Russia," world agencies reported. Yesterday, Moscow announced that the Ukrainian city had been captured by Russian forces.
In response to a reporter's question during the G7 summit about the city's status, Zelensky said: "As of today, Bakhmut is not occupied by Russia."
The information blackout has made it impossible to confirm the situation on the battlefield in the longest-running battle since the start of Russia's war against Ukraine, with a series of comments made by both Russian and Ukrainian officials adding to the confusion on the subject.
Zelensky's response, in English, to a question about the city's status earlier in the forum was interpreted by many as confirmation that the city had fallen into Russian hands.
"Today, Bakhmut is only in our hearts. There is nothing else left in this place," Zelensky said, adding that the battle had left nothing in the city but dead Russians.
Zelensky compared the complete destruction of Bakhmut by the Russian army to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945, during his visit to the memorial complex dedicated to the hundreds of thousands of victims of the bombing, reported AFP.
The Ukrainian head of state also said that he is confident that Kyiv will receive F-16 fighter jets from the West, with the help of which he can repel a full-scale Russian invasion of his country, according to Reuters.
The Russian ambassador to the US with a warning about the F-16
The transfer of F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine will raise questions about NATO's involvement in the conflict. Anatoly Antonov, Russia's ambassador to the United States, warned about this.
Late last week, Joe Biden approved programs to train Ukrainian F-16 fighter pilots. In turn, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky assured Biden that the planes would not be used for strikes on Russian territory.
However, Russia's ambassador to Washington warned that any strike on the Crimean peninsula is also considered a strike on Russia and a response will follow.
Ukraine has recently increased the number of attacks on Russian targets in Crimea, which was annexed by the Russians in 2014.
Biden: Zelensky gave "firm assurance" to the US that F-16s will not be used against Russian territory
US President Joe Biden said that his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelensky, had given "firm assurance" to the US that F-16 aircraft would not be used for attacks on Russian territory, news agencies reported.
In response to a journalist's question at a press conference on the sidelines of the G7 summit in Hiroshima whether the provision of F-16 fighter jets would not lead to an escalation of the conflict, Biden said: "I have the firm assurance of Zelensky that they will not be used against the territory of Russia".
However, the US president said that there is no problem with them being used against "any Russian troops located in and around the territory of Ukraine".
US President Joe Biden announced today a new military aid package for Ukraine, which is in the amount of about 375 million dollars, Reuters reported.
In a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on the sidelines of the G7 leaders' forum in the Japanese city of Hiroshima, Biden told the Ukrainian leader that the United States was doing everything possible to strengthen Ukraine's defenses. The new military aid package includes ammunition, artillery and armored fighting vehicles, the US president said.
“We are with Ukraine and we will not abandon it”, Biden also said. "We will not waver, Putin will not break our resolve as he thought he could," he added. Zelensky thanked Biden for his support, the Associated Press notes. "We are grateful. We will never forget. Thank you," said the Ukrainian president.
And after the end of the G-7 meeting, Volodymyr Zelensky went to the "Museum of Peace" in Hiroshima, where a memorial has been placed in memory of the hundreds of thousands of victims of the atomic bombing since 1945, DPA reported.
More than 300,000 people died after the US Air Force dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. Today, this Japanese city stands as a stark symbol of the horrors of war and a reminder of peace.
At the same time, the Russian-appointed authorities of the Zaporizhzhia region said yesterday that Kyiv fired on the port city of Berdyansk with British-made “Storm Shadow” cruise missiles, Reuters reported.
Seven rockets were launched against Berdyansk, four of which were "Storm Shadow", Vladimir Rogov, a representative of the Russian-appointed regional authorities, said on Telegram. According to Rogov, six of the rockets were intercepted, and one fell on the outskirts of the city. No one was injured, explains Rogov.
Reuters could not confirm this information from other sources, the agency noted.
Belgium will train Ukrainian F-16 pilots, but will not provide fighter jets to Kyiv
Belgium will provide training to Ukrainian pilots to fly F-16 fighter jets, a spokesman for Prime Minister Alexander de Croo confirmed, quoted by local media. The decision was made at the government level last week.
So far, no deadlines have been set for the start of training. Further decisions are to be made this week, the spokesman explained.
It is specified that the Belgian Minister of Defense Ludivine Dedonder rules out the possibility of the country providing fighter jets to Ukraine for two reasons. The first is that the Belgian F-16s are at the end of their life, and the second is that the machines are still needed for the activities of the Belgian armed forces.
At the G7 meeting in Hiroshima last week, the US gave permission for Ukrainian F-16 pilots to be trained. The project is a joint initiative of Great Britain, France, Belgium, Denmark and Portugal.
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