Ukraine: Heavy Russian shelling kills 5 civilians, wounds 18

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Renewed Russian artillery barrages across Ukraine killed at least five civilians and wounded another 18 in the past day, the office of Ukraine’s president reported Wednesday as Moscow attempted to expand and consolidate its gains in the country’s east.

Most of the deaths occurred in Donetsk province, which is part of a region where pro-Russia separatists have fought for eight years and the Kremlin is intent on capturing. The city of Bakhmut faced particularly heavy shelling as the current focus of Russia’s offensive, Donetsk administrative chief Pavlo Kyrylenko said.

In adjacent Luhansk province, which Russian and separatist forces have all but conquered, Ukrainian soldiers battled to retain control of two outlying villages amid the shelling, Gov. Serhiy Haidai said.

Luhansk and Donetsk together make up Ukraine’s Donbas region, a mostly Russian-speaking region of steel factories, mines and other industries vital to the economy. The Russians are “deliberately turning Donbas into ashes, and there will be just no people left on the territories captured,” Haidai said.

Russian artillery also rained down in northeast Ukraine, where a regional governor, Oleg Syniehubov, accused Russian forces of trying to “terrorize civilians” in Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city.

With Russia’s sights set on the east, the Ukrainian military has tried to reclaim captured city’s in the south. The Ukrainian military claimed Tuesday to have used missiles to destroy a Russian ammunition depot in occupied Nova Kakhovka, a city east of the Black Sea port of Kherson.

The precision of the depot strike suggested Ukrainian forces had employed U.S.-supplied multiple-launch High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, a type of weapon for which the government in Kyiv repeatedly appealed.

Russia’s Tass news agency said the reported blast occurred when a mineral fertilizer storage facility exploded. Some of the ingredients in fertilizer can be used for ammunition.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian and Russian officials are expected to meet face-to-face Wednesday for the first time in months. Military delegations from the two countries and Turkey plan to hold talks in Istanbul on a potential deal to get grain out of Ukraine’s blockaded and mined ports.

United Nations representatives also were involved in the talks. Ukraine is one of the world’s largest exporters of wheat, corn and sunflower oil, but Russia’s invasion halted shipments, endangering food supplies in many developing countries and contributing to higher global prices.

In other developments:

— The leader of a Moscow-backed separatist government in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk province said foreign fighters convicted of terrorism and trying to overturn constitutional order for working with Ukrainian troops have appealed their death sentences. If the appellate court in the separatists’ self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic rejects the appeals, two British men and a Moroccan could face a firing squad. Rebel leader Denis Pushilin said about 100 members of Ukrainian National Guard battalion captured after the fall of the city of Mariupol were scheduled to appear before a court soon.

— The United Nations refugee agency reported that most Ukrainian refugees want to return to their country but plan to wait until the war subsides. Nearly two-thirds plan to stay put in their host countries for now. The vast majority of refugees from Ukraine are women and children. The U.N. agency’s findings came in a survey based on 4,900 interviews with refugees in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Moldova, Poland, Romania and Slovakia. Just under one in 10 of the Ukrainian refugees surveyed said they planned to move to another host country within the next month.

— Ukraine’s emergency services agency says the death toll from a weekend Russian airstrike in the Donestsk town of Chasiv Yar rose to 47. Rescue crews continued searching for survivors Wednesday in the rubble of three apartment buildings hit by missiles Saturday. The buildings in a residential area of the town were inhabited mostly by people who work in nearby factories.

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Jamey Keaten in Geneva contributed.

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