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Russia says ‘fortifying’ annexed Crimean peninsula

#Russia #fortifying #annexed #Crimean #peninsula

Russia said Friday it was strengthening positions on the Crimean peninsula, annexed from Ukraine in 2014, as Kyiv’s forces reclaim territory in the neighbouring Kherson region.

Moscow annexed Crimea in the wake of nationwide pro-democracy demonstrations that led to the ouster of Ukraine’s former Kremlin-friendly president. 

And it was used as a launching pad in February for Russian invasion, with Moscow’s troops pushing north and swiftly capturing towns and cities in southern Ukraine.

“Fortification work is being carried out on the territory of Crimea under my control with the aim of guaranteeing the security of all Crimeans,” the Moscow-appointed governor of the region, Sergei Aksyonov, said.

He added that the military and law enforcement were already working in such a way to make sure Crimeans “feel safe”.

His announcement comes as Ukraine forces in recent months have been pushing a counter-offensive in the south towards Crimea and last week reclaimed Kherson, the capital of the bordering the annexed peninsula.

With electrical and water supplies cut to the city following the destruction of key utilities by the retreating Russians, residents moved fast to stockpile basic supplies in the southern Ukrainian city.

The deputy head of the Kherson region Sergiy Khlan announced Friday that Kherson city’s rail link was being restored with a first train leaving later in the day.

– ‘There is nothing left’ – 

“For now, we are launching just one train, and later we will see whether the route becomes regular,” a spokeswoman for the national railway operator told AFP.

The Ukraine presidency said it was doing everything possible to improve conditions in Kherson and that neighbouring territories, also battered by Russian forces, would aid the liberated territory. 

“Our people there need a lot of help. Russians not only killed, mined but also robbed towns and cities. There is nothing left there in fact,” the deputy head of the presidency Kyrylo Tymoshenko said.

Russia claimed to have also annexed the Kherson region along with three more in September, vowing to defend them with all available military means.

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky has said his forces intend to recapture the peninsula as well.

There have been several explosions at or near Russian military installations in Crimea since February, including a coordinated drone attack on a key Russian naval port at Sevastopol. 

In October, the Kerch bridge connecting the peninsula to the Russian mainland was partially destroyed in an attack attributed to Ukraine by Moscow.

Russia announced on Friday that it was making gains too in the eastern Donetsk region, which its forces have partially controlled since 2014.

– Donbas battles –

“As a result of offensive work carried out by Russian troops, the settlement of Opytnoe was liberated,” defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said on Friday.

Moscow’s forces, alongside troops from two breakaway regions in east Ukraine and mercenaries from Russia’s Wagner group have been trying for months to capture the nearby town of Bakhmut.

Russia has responded with a fresh barrage of missile and drone attacks across Ukraine, crippling its power grid, after its troops withdrew from Kherson.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Thursday that some 10 million people were suffering blackouts as a result.

The Russian defence ministry said Friday it had launched “long-range, precision” weapons against military targets, specifically fuel and energy infrastructure.

“The goals of the attack have been achieved. All rockets hit exactly the designated objects,” Konashenkov said.

The Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office said Friday that the death toll from strikes earlier in the week on Vilniansk in the Zaporizhzhia region, which Moscow also said annexed, had left 10 people dead, including two children.

Tymoshenko meanwhile said six civilians were killed in four different regions of Ukraine following strikes Thursday.

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