Deadly Russian rockets hit Donbas as Ukraine laments Johnson’s demise

Kyiv criticises Turkey for not impounding Russian ship carrying ‘stolen grain’

More Russian missiles have hit eastern and southern Ukraine as Kyiv criticised Turkey for failing to detain a ship allegedly transporting stolen Ukrainian grain and lamented the resignation of British prime Boris Johnson, one of its strongest allies in combating Kremlin aggression.

At least one person was killed when a Russian rocket hit Kramatorsk, the main Government administrative centre in the eastern Donetsk region that is seen as Russia’s next target after its forces seized the last Kyiv-controlled city in neighbouring Luhansk region.

“One person has definitely been killed and six are injured. However these numbers could change. Six buildings have been damaged, including a hotel and a residential block,” Donetsk governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said on Thursday. “This is an intentional attack on civilians ... This will continue until we drive (the Russians) out. I ask everyone to evacuate — it is temporary, and we need to protect life right now.”

Donetsk officials have repeatedly urged tens of thousands of people who remain in Kramatorsk, Slovyansk, Bakhmut and the region’s other Kyiv-controlled cities to leave urgently, in advance of what is expected to be an intensifying artillery barrage and potentially street fighting in the coming weeks and months.

Slovyansk mayor Vadym Lyakh said Russian shells hit his city again on Thursday, just days after several people were killed and injured in a strike on its central market.

Moscow made the full takeover of Luhansk and Donetsk — which together comprise the Donbas area — its main immediate target after its troops were driven back from Kyiv, Kharkiv and Ukraine’s other main cities after launching a full invasion of the country on February 24th.

Shelling and missile fire also continued in southern Ukraine, where Russia is trying to consolidate control of parts of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions while putting pressure on Odesa and Mykolaiv, big port cities on the Black Sea that remain in Government hands.

Ukrainian officials say Russia is continuing to target grain storage facilities in the south, where millions of tonnes of grain are trapped due to Russia’s blockade of Ukraine’s ports, stoking fears of a global food crisis.

Farmers report that Russian shelling is setting dry fields alight, preventing them from harvesting crops and strewing land with unexploded ordnance that could make agricultural work dangerous in those areas for years to come.

Ukraine’s foreign ministry said it would summon Turkey’s ambassador to Kyiv to explain why his country failed to detain a Russian-operated ship, the Zhibek Zholy, which is allegedly carrying stolen Ukrainian grain loaded in the occupied port of Berdyansk.

“We regret that Russia’s ship Zhibek Zholy which was full of stolen Ukrainian grain, was allowed to leave Karasu port despite criminal evidence presented to the Turkish authorities,” Oleh Nikolenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s foreign ministry, said of what he called an “unacceptable situation”.

Moscow denies stealing Ukrainian grain, and says Kyiv’s failure to demine its coastal waters and western sanctions on Russia would be to blame for any international food shortages.

Ukraine said its troops landed on Snake Island, a small but strategic outcrop in the Black Sea near Odesa, and raised the national flag before Russian missiles struck and badly damaged its dock. Moscow said the attack killed some Ukrainian troops and forced other to abandon the island.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy called Mr Johnson a “true friend” of his country, but said he believed Britain would not decrease its military and other aid to Kyiv following the premier’s resignation.

Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior adviser to Mr Zelenskiy, praised Mr Johnson “for realising the threat of the Russian monster and always being at the forefront of supporting Ukraine”.

In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said of Mr Johnson: “He doesn’t like us, we don’t like him either.”

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe