Kyiv, Ukraine — Ukrainian forces struck and badly damaged a bridge critical to supplying Russian troops in southern Ukraine, a regional official said on Wednesday.
Kirill Stremousov, deputy head of the Moscow-backed temporary administration for the Russian-controlled southern region of Kherson, said the Ukrainian military struck the bridge over the Dnipro River with missiles on Wednesday, scoring 11 hits.
He said in remarks to the Interfax news agency that the bridge had suffered severe damage but was not closed to traffic.
Stremousov said Ukrainian forces used US-supplied HIMARS multiple rocket launchers to strike the bridge, adding that some of them were intercepted by Russian air defenses.
Wednesday’s shelling of the Antonivskyi Bridge was the second in as many days. It was slightly damaged by Ukrainian shelling a day earlier, according to Moscow-backed authorities in Kherson.
At the start of the war, Russian troops quickly overtook the Kherson region just north of the Crimean peninsula which Russia annexed in 2014. They faced Ukrainian counterattacks, but largely held their ground.
The 1.4 kilometer (0.9 mile) bridge is the main one over the Dnieper, and if rendered inoperable it would be difficult for the Russian military to continue supplying its forces in the area amid Ukrainian attacks repeated.
The UK Ministry of Defense said on Wednesday that the bridge was likely still usable after Ukrainian strikes, but it is a “key vulnerability for Russian forces“.
“It is one of only two road crossings on the Dnieper through which Russia can supply or withdraw its forces in the territory it occupied west of the river,” he added. “Control of the Dnieper crossings is likely to become a key factor in the outcome of the fighting in the region.”
The Ukrainian attacks on the Kherson Bridge come as the bulk of Russian forces are locked in fighting in Donbass, the industrial heartland of eastern Ukraine, where they have made slow gains in the face of fierce Ukrainian resistance .
Russia’s ground advance has slowed, partly because Ukraine is using more effective US weapons and partly because of what Russian President Vladimir Putin called an “operational pause.” Russia is focusing more on aerial bombardment using long-range missiles.
Ukrainian officials have expressed hope that Kyiv could drain Russian military resources in the fight for Donbass and then launch a counter-offensive to regain control of the Kherson region and parts of the Zaporizhzhia region that the Russians have seized at the start of the war.
With indications that Ukraine is planning counterattacks to retake occupied areas, the Russian military has in recent weeks targeted the Black Sea port of Odessa and parts of southern Ukraine where its troops have captured cities earlier in the war.
Kherson – site of a major shipbuilding industry at the confluence of the Dnieper and the Black Sea near Russian annexed Crimea – is one of several areas that a US government spokesman said Russia tried to annex. After months of local rumors and announcements about a Russian referendum, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said on Tuesday that US intelligence officials had amassed “ample” new evidence that Russia was officially seeking to annex additional Ukrainian territory and could hold a “sham”. public vote in September. Russia is eyeing Kherson as well as all of the Lugansk and Donetsk oblasts.
“Russia is preparing the ground to annex Ukrainian territory it controls in direct violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty,” Kirby said in Washington.
Kirby also said the White House is expected to announce more military aid to Ukraine later this week. The aid is expected to include more HIMARS systems, a critical weapon that Ukrainian forces are successfully using in their fight to fend off Russian troops.
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