Ukraine attacks occupied Melitopol, Russian side says two killed

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By Nick Starkov

KYIV, Dec 11 (Reuters) – Ukraine attacked occupied Melitopol in the country’s southeast on Saturday evening, the Russian-installed and exiled Ukrainian authorities of the strategically located city said.

The pro-Moscow authorities said a missile attack killed two people and injured 10, while the exiled mayor said scores of “invaders” were killed.

Reuters could not independently verify the reports of the attacks or deaths.

“Air defence systems destroyed two missiles, four reached their targets,” Yevgeny Balitsky, the Moscow-appointed governor of the occupied part of the Zaporizhzhia region, said on the Telegram messaging app.

He said a “recreation centre” where people were dining was destroyed in the Ukrainian attack with HIMARS missiles.

The exiled mayor, Ivan Fedorov, said on his Telegram channel that the attack hit a church that Russians had turned into a gathering place.

Vladimir Rogov, another Moscow-installed official in the Russian-controlled part of Zaporizhzhia, said a big fire caused by the strike engulfed the recreation centre. He posted a video of a structure in flames.

HIMARS multiple rocket launchers have been among Ukraine’s most effective weapons in the war, delivering precision fire on hundreds of targets, including Russian command posts. On Friday, the United States said it was sending more aid to Kyiv to strengthen its air defences and defeat drones.

An adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Oleksiy Arestovych, said Melitopol, a major industrial and transport centre occupied by Russia since March, is key to the defence of the south.

“All logistics linking the Russian forces on the eastern part of the Kherson region and all the way to the Russian border near Mariupol is carried out through it,” Arestovych said in a video interview on social media.

“If Melitopol falls, the entire defence line all the way to Kherson collapses. Ukrainian forces gain a direct route to Crimea.”

There was no immediate comment from the Ukrainian army about the attacks. Earlier in the day, the central command of the Ukraine’s Armed Forces said it had been conducting strikes on Melitopol.

In Other Developments

CONFLICT

* All non-critical infrastructure in the Ukrainian port of Odesa was without power after Russia used Iranian-made drones to hit two energy facilities, leaving 1.5 million people without power, officials said.

* Serhiy Bratchuk, spokesperson for Odesa’s regional administration, denied that any officials had called for evacuation. He said a Facebook post to that effect, since deleted, was being investigated by Ukraine’s security services as “an element of the hybrid war” by Russia.

* Reuters could not verify the battlefield reports.

DIPLOMACY, CULTURE

* Russian President Vladimir Putin is determined to conquer parts of Ukraine and shows no restraint in his brutality, but it is still important to keep contacts open in case a moment arrives to end the war, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said.

* Russia wants to turn Ukraine into a “dependent dictatorship” like Belarus, the wife of jailed Belarusian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ales Byalyatski said upon receiving the prize on his behalf, speaking his words.

* Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, freed in a prisoner swap for U.S. basketball starBrittney Griner, said he wished her good luck on the tarmac in Abu Dhabi where they were exchanged on Thursday.

ECONOMY

* A dozen countries including Belgium, Italy, Poland and Slovenia have made a push to “significantly” lower a planned European Union cap on gas prices, as the bloc struggles to strike a deal on the measure.

* The Russian-installed administration of Ukraine’s Kherson region said it had begun changing locally circulated Ukrainian hryvnia currency into Russian roubles, with hryvnia circulation in Moscow-controlled areas of the region to end on Jan. 1.

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