Belarusian leader accuses Ukraine of attempted missile attack



Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said on Saturday that Ukraine tried to strike military installations on Belarusian territory three days ago, but all of its missiles were intercepted, the official Belta news agency reported.

Lukashenko, who did not provide evidence to support the claim, said Belarus does not want war with Ukraine but will fight if its own territory is invaded.

The Ukrainian military did not immediately comment.

“They are provoking us. I have to tell you that three days ago, maybe a little more, an attempt to hit military installations on Belarusian territory was made from Ukrainian territory,” Belta said, quoting Lukashenko .

“But, thank God, the Pantsir anti-aircraft systems managed to intercept all the missiles launched by the Ukrainian armed forces.”

WATCH | What happened in week 19 of the Russian attack on Ukraine:

What happened in week 19 of the Russian attack on Ukraine?

More than a dozen civilians were killed in a Russian missile strike on a crowded shopping mall, as Russia and Ukraine carried out the largest prisoner of war swap. NATO has also issued an invitation to join Sweden and Finland. Here is a recap of the war in Ukraine from June 25 to July 1.

Lukashenko said no Belarusian troops were fighting in what Moscow calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine.

Belarus is a close ally of Russia and allowed Moscow to use Belarusian territory to send troops to Ukraine on February 24.

Last week, just hours before Lukashenko was due to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russian long-range bombers fired missiles at Ukraine for the first time from Belarusian airspace.

Lukashenko has so far resisted efforts to drag his army into war. But during their meeting, Putin announced that Russia planned to supply Belarus with the Iskander-M missile system and reminded Lukashenko how dependent his government was on Russian economic support.

Massive explosions in Odessa

In a separate development, explosions rocked the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv on Saturday as Russian artillery helped make gains in the east, following a week where the death toll among civilians following Russian missile strikes has increased in urban centers well behind the front line.

“There are powerful explosions in the city! Stay in the shelters!” Oleksandr Senkevych, mayor of the Mykolaiv region which borders the vital Black Sea port of Odessa, wrote on the Telegram messaging app as the air raid sirens sounded.

The cause of the explosions was not immediately clear, although Russia later said it had hit army command posts in the area. Reuters could not independently verify the information.

The blasts come a day after a Russian airstrike hit an apartment building in the small coastal town of Serhiivka, about 50 kilometers southwest of Odessa, killing 21 people.

Ukrainian Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova said investigators were recovering fragments and taking action to determine the trajectory of the weapons and “the specific people guilty of this terrible war crime”.

A damaged residential building was seen on Saturday in the southern Ukrainian town of Serhiivka, about 50 kilometers southwest of Odessa. (Maxim Penko/Associated Press)

Kyiv says Moscow has stepped up missile attacks on towns away from major battlefields in eastern Ukraine and deliberately hit civilian sites. Meanwhile, Ukrainian troops on the eastern frontlines describe intense artillery barrages that hit residential areas.

Russia claims to have targeted military sites and denies targeting civilians. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said “Russian armed forces do not work with civilian targets.”

Moscow has focused its attention in Ukraine on capturing the eastern Donbass region after its wider war aims to take Kyiv and overthrow the government were thwarted by fierce resistance.

Russia is seeking to drive Ukrainian forces out of Luhansk and Donetsk provinces, which make up Donbass and where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Kyiv since 2014.

In Lugansk, Russian forces pounded the town of Lysychansk and its surroundings in an all-out attempt to seize the last stronghold of Ukrainian resistance in the province.

Russian news agency TASS quoted a source close to Russian-backed forces in Luhansk as saying the remaining Ukrainian forces in Lysychansk were under intense attack. “They will be defeated in the near future if they don’t surrender,” the source said.

WATCH | Russian-backed separatists say Lysychansk is surrounded:

Russia steps up attacks on Lysychansk

Russian-backed separatists say the Ukrainian town of Lysychansk is surrounded despite denials by Ukrainian officials.

In Sloviansk, a major city in Donetsk still under Ukrainian control, four people died when Russian forces fired cluster munitions on Friday night, Mayor Vadym Lyakh said on Facebook. He said the affected neighborhoods did not contain any potential military targets.

Although beaten in the Donbass, Ukrainian forces made some advances elsewhere, including forcing Russia to withdraw from Snake Island, a Black Sea outcrop about 140 kilometers southeast of Odessa that Moscow captured early in the war.

Ukraine has demanded more weapons from the West, saying its forces are vastly outnumbered by the Russian military.

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