By Pavel Polityuk
KYIV (Reuters) – Ukraine fended off 36 Russian air attacks in and around the capital overnight while pro-Kyiv Russian fighters said they were battling Russian forces for a second day inside Russia, trading blame with Moscow for the deaths of two civilians.
Russia has launched about 20 waves of attacks on Kyiv since the beginning of May, in a surge that Ukraine says appears aimed at derailing its preparations for a major counter-offensive to try to end Russia’s invasion.
A child was one of two people injured by falling debris in a region outside the Ukrainian capital as air defences shot down what the air force said on Friday were 15 Russian cruise missiles and 21 drones.
“The occupiers are not stopping their attempts to terrorise the Ukrainian capital with strike drones and missiles,” the Ukrainian government said.
Russian officials reported cross-border shelling from several areas of northern Ukraine on Friday in the latest sign that Kyiv is starting to push back beyond its borders after more than 15 months of all-out Russian assault.
The governor of Russia’s Belgorod region said two people had been killed and four wounded when Ukrainian forces shelled a road in the town of Maslova Pristan near the Ukrainian border. Shell fragments had struck passing cars.
“Two women were travelling in one of them. They died from their injuries on the spot,” governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said on Telegram.
Gladkov said two people had been wounded and an industrial facility had caught fire after shelling in the town of Shebekino.
Shebekino suffered heavy bombardment on Thursday as well as a cross-border incursion, Russian officials said.
Russia said on Thursday it had repelled a second attempted incursion into the Belgorod border region in just over a week by what it casts as pro-Ukrainian militants. Ukraine denies involvement.
The Freedom of Russia Legion blamed Russia for the shelling of cars on Telegram, while posting images of what it said was one of its tanks in the nearby Russian village of Novaya Tavolzhanka and soldiers taking cover behind a wall during a gunfight.
“Near Tavolzhanka, the enemy destroyed a Renault car with civilians, mistaking it for a car with our sabotage group. At least two civilians were killed, and this is a direct consequence of the lack of professionalism of Putin’s army,” the Legion said on the Telegram messaging app.
The group describes itself as Russians fighting President Vladimir Putin’s government to create a Russia that would be part of the “free world”. Along with the Russian Volunteer Corps founded by a far-right Russian nationalist, it says they are Russian volunteers attacking under their own steam, and not on the orders of Ukraine.
NO IMMEDIATE NATO MEMBERSHIP
Putin told his Security Council on Friday that “ill-wishers” were increasingly trying to destabilise Russia.
“We must do everything we can to make sure that under no circumstances will they be allowed to do this,” Putin said.
Thousands of people in Ukraine have been killed since Russia’s invasion began on Feb. 24, 2022, while millions have fled their homes and towns and cities have been devastated, particularly in Russian-speaking areas. At the same time, Ukraine’s military has been hugely strengthened by Western equipment and training.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has pressed NATO to let Ukraine join, but members of the Western defence alliance are divided over how fast that should happen, many wary of any move that might take the alliance into war with Russia.
In a joint briefing in Kyiv with Estonian President Alar Karis on Friday, he said joining the alliance was the best security guarantee for Kyiv.
“But we are adequate people and understand that we will not pull any NATO country into a war,” Zelenskiy said. “And that’s why we understand that we won’t be a member of NATO while this war is ongoing. Not because we don’t want to, because it’s impossible.”
The governors of the Bryansk, Kursk, Smolensk and Kaluga regions of Russia all reported shelling or drone attacks, with some buildings damaged and energy infrastructure targeted, although no fires at oil facilities or injuries were reported.
Within Ukraine, two people were killed and four wounded in Russian shelling of the village of Komyshevaha in the southern Zaporizhzhia region, the regional governor said.
A Russian-installed official in the same region said a number of people had been injured in Ukrainian shelling. Earlier he said Ukrainian forces had hit a “hospital camp”.
In the eastern province of Donetsk, Russia said a new offensive had been launched by Chechen special forces.
Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia are two of four regions in eastern and southern Ukraine that Russia claims to have annexed in the invasion to “demilitarise” a country it said threatened Russian-speakers and Russia with its moves towards the West.
(Additional reporting by David Ljunggren, Guy Faulconbridge; writing by Tom Balmforth, Philippa Fletcher and Nick Macfie; editing by Mark Heinrich)