KYIV, July 27 (Reuters) – The fate of Ukraine’s second biggest power plant hung in the balance after Russian-backed forces claimed to have captured it intact, but Kyiv did not confirm its seizure, saying only that fighting was underway nearby.
If confirmed, the seizure of the Soviet-era coal-fired Vuhlehirsk power plant in eastern Ukraine would be Moscow’s first strategic gain in more than three weeks in what it calls its “special military operation”.
Russian and Russian-backed forces have been struggling to make meaningful progress on the ground since their capture in early July of the eastern Ukrainian city of Lysychansk.
They have been repeatedly pushed back by fierce Ukrainian resistance to what Kyiv and the West regard as an imperialist Russian land grab in a pro-Western neighbour that Moscow dominated until the Soviet Union’s 1991 break-up.
Unverified footage posted on social media appeared to show fighters from Russia’s Wagner private military company posing in front of the Vuhlehirsk power plant, which some Russian state media – citing Russian-backed officials – reported separately had been stormed.
One of the Wagner fighters in front of the plant showed his watch to the camera – the time on it was 1001 local and gave the date as July 26.
In Other Developments:
* The headquarters overseeing exports of Ukrainian grains is set to be unveiled in Istanbul on Wednesday after a landmark U.N. deal last week, and a senior Turkish official said the first ship is likely to depart Black Sea ports in a few days.
* Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko said the Turkish-brokered deal to unblock Ukrainian grain exports by sea could collapse if obstacles to Russian agricultural exports are not promptly removed, Interfax news agency reported.
* State-controlled media outlet Russia Today lost its court fight against a European Union ban imposed in March over alleged disinformation, prompting the Kremlin to warn of retaliatory measures against Western media.
* A deal agreed by EU states to curb their gas use should yield enough gas savings to last through an average winter, if Russia were to fully cut supplies in July, the bloc’s energy chief Kadri Simson said.
* The EU decided to renew sanctions against Russia for a further six months, until the end of January 2023.
* At least one person was killed by a Russian strike on a Ukrainian hotel in the Donetsk region town of Bakhmut, local authorities said.
* Authorities in the Russian-controlled Ukrainian city of Kherson have shut its only bridge across the Dnipro river after it came under fire from U.S.-supplied high mobility artillery rocket systems (HIMARS), an official from the Russian-installed administration said.
* Russia’s Defence Ministry said its forces on July 24 had destroyed more than 100 U.S.-made HIMARS rockets in Ukraine’s Dnipropetrovsk region. Reuters was unable to independently verify battlefield accounts from either side.
“The way back does not scare me. We can say that our excitement and hopes have been through the roof in the recent days.” – Burak Kinayer, 19, trainee officer on a ship stranded for five months in a Black Sea port but now due to set sail after a deal to unblock Ukrainian grain exports has been signed.
Photo courtesy Ukrainian MOD