Deadly rocket strike hits Russia’s Belgorod as Ukraine struggles to hold ‘hellish’ Avdiivka

Britain and Poland jointly urge Republicans in the US Congress to drop their opposition to $60bn in new military aid for Kyiv

Moscow said at least six people were killed and 17 injured in a Ukrainian rocket strike on the Russian border city of Belgorod, as Kyiv sent a crack assault unit into “hellish” battles for the eastern town of Avdiivka to allow other troops to withdraw.

Russian officials said 14 rockets fired from a multi-launch missile system were shot down over Belgorod, where a shopping centre and numerous blocks of flats, houses and cars were damaged. A child was among those killed, the health ministry in Moscow said.

Belgorod, some 35km from the Ukrainian border, has come under increasing drone and rocket fire from Kyiv’s forces in recent months. Hundreds of children have been evacuated to safer parts of the region, which is a launch site for Russian ballistic missiles that frequently hit Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second city, which is a similar distance from the frontier.

Kyiv did not comment on Thursday’s strike on Belgorod, which came hours after Ukraine said its air defence units had shot down 13 of 26 missiles fired by Russia. Eleven people were injured in several areas, and power and other infrastructure was damaged in the western regions of Lviv and Khmelnytskyi and in the southeastern cities of Dnipro and Zaporizhzhia.


Intense fighting continued in and around the industrial town of Avdiivka on the edge of Russian-occupied Donetsk in what analysts see as a Kremlin bid to secure a battlefield victory for Russian leader Vladimir Putin before next month’s presidential election – even though its outcome is assured for a veteran autocrat who has crushed domestic opposition.

“As for Avdiivka itself – where the front line is very dynamic and our units are manoeuvring in some places to withdraw to better positions, in other places to take [Russian] positions – then the main announcement is that ... a reserve supply line has been activated,” said Ukrainian military spokesman Dmytro Lykhoviy.

“The whole picture of events is clear, and back-up options for how events will develop and for conducting military action have been planned,” he added, amid fears that Ukrainian units could be surrounded and trapped as the large Russian force storms Avdiivka.

Ukraine’s third assault brigade was sent in to ease pressure on troops defending Avdiivka, and said the situation when it arrived was “extremely critical”.

Maksym Zhorin, the deputy commander of the brigade, said its soldiers were “carrying out combat missions in conditions that even we could not imagine...there is a huge number of the enemy, they are pushing from all sides.

“The battles in Avdiivka are many times more hellish than the hottest battles of this phase of the war, which were in Bakhmut,” he added, referring to another ruined town in Donetsk region some 70km to the north, which Russia seized last May after months of fierce battles.

Ukrainian forces to the south in neighbouring Zaporizhzhia province warned that Russia was also massing a large force near Robotyne, a village that Ukraine freed last summer, in apparent preparation for a bid to reoccupy it.

Britain and Poland jointly urged Republicans in the US Congress to drop their opposition to $60 billion (€56bn) in new military aid for Kyiv, as the Kremlin dismissed US claims that Russia could be developing space-based nuclear weapons as a “White House ploy” to secure the funding for Ukraine.

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

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