Ukrainian and British officials have warned that Russian forces are relying on weapons which are capable of causing mass casualties to civilians as they try to make headway in their fight to capture regions in eastern Ukraine.
Russian bombers have likely launched dozens of heavy, 1960s-era, anti-ship missiles in ground attacks in Ukraine, the UK defence ministry said on Saturday.
The Kh-22 missiles were primarily designed to destroy aircraft carriers using a nuclear warhead.
When such missiles are used in ground attacks with conventional warheads, they “are highly inaccurate and therefore can cause severe collateral damage and casualties”, the ministry said.
Russia is likely using the 5.5-tonne anti-ship missiles because it is running short of more precise modern missiles, the British ministry said.
The ministry provided no details of where exactly such missiles are thought to have been deployed in Ukraine.
Both Russian and Ukrainian forces have expended large amounts of weaponry in what has become a grinding war of attrition for the eastern region of coal mines and factories known as the Donbas, placing huge strains on their arms resources and stockpiles.
The Ukrainian governor of eastern Luhansk province also accused Russia of using incendiary “flamethrower” rockets on the village of Vrubivka, southwest of the fiercely contested cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk.
While the use of flamethrowers on the battlefield is legal, governor Serhiy Haidai alleged the attacks overnight had caused widespread damage to civilian homes.
“At night, the enemy used a flamethrower rocket system – many houses burned down,” Haidai wrote on Telegram on Saturday, adding that information about the number of victims in Vrubivka, in the Popasnyanska district, is being collected.
Haidai also said Russian forces were destroying critical industrial facilities, including railway depots, a brick factory and a glass factory. The governor’s claims could not be immediately verified.
Ukrainian government adviser Anton Gerashchenko accused Russian forces of using incendiary weapons to inflict damage, including against agricultural targets. On Saturday, Gerashchenko posted a video to twitter allegedly showing Ukrainian troops attempting to put out fires caused by incendiary shelling of wheat fields.
In May, Gerashchenko posted a video to Telegram claiming to show Russian troops using incendiary phosphorus projectiles in Donbas.
White phosphorus, which burns fiercely when exposed to air, is often used in battle and is not legally classified as a chemical weapon. However, phosphorous is controversial as it causes widespread damage and is illegal to use in civilian areas.
In April, British defence sources said that they believed white phosphorus had been used in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine.
Russia presses eastern offensive
The Ukrainian army also said on Saturday that Russian forces were regrouping to launch an offensive on the Donetsk province city of Sloviansk.
Moscow-backed rebels have controlled self-proclaimed republics in both Donetsk and Luhansk since 2014, and Russia is trying to seize the territory still under Ukrainian control.
Donetsk and Luhansk make up the Donbas region combined.
The Donetsk regional police said Russian missiles hit 13 towns and villages in the province overnight. In a statement, the police said civilians had been killed and wounded, without specifying numbers.
During a visit to Kyiv on Saturday by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskyy called for a new round of “even stronger” European Union sanctions against Russia.
Zelenskyy called for the new sanctions to target more Russian officials, including judges, and to hamper the activities of all Russian banks, including gas giant Gazprom’s bank, as well as all Russian companies helping Moscow “in any way”.
Von der Leyen praised Ukraine’s “strength and resilience” in the face of Russia’s “horrible and atrocious” invasion and said the EU would assist with reconstruction so the country could “rise from the ashes”.
“We are mourning with you. We share the tears with you,” she said.
One of the first European leaders to travel to Ukraine during the war, Von der Leyen is making her second visit to Ukraine since Russia invaded in February.
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