U.S. and Ukrainian officials say U.S. rocket systems provided to Ukraine are having a large impact in the fight against Russia, helping Ukrainian forces to hold off Russia’s military in the eastern Donbas region.
A U.S. senior military official speaking on the condition of anonymity Friday to discuss the war said U.S.-supplied rocket systems known as HIMARS are having “a very, very significant effect” in the fight against Russia.
Ukraine’s defense ministry spokesperson, Oleksandr Motuzianyk, also singled out the role played by the HIMARS long-range rocket systems.
“In the last weeks, over 30 of the enemy’s military logistical facilities have been destroyed, as a result of which the attacking potential of Russian forces has been significantly reduced,” Motuzianyk said Friday on national television.
The U.S.-supplied rockets are more precise than Ukraine’s Soviet-era artillery and have a longer range, allowing Ukraine to hit Russian targets farther back from the front line.
The senior U.S. official said, “Russian forces are limited to incremental if any gains” in the Donbas region and are being held off by Ukrainian forces.
‘No indication’ of military target
The U.S. official also dismissed Russia’s claim that it targeted a military meeting in Ukraine’s central city of Vinnytsia on Thursday in an attack on an office building that Kyiv says killed 23 people, including children.
“I have no indication that there was a military target anywhere near that,” the official said.
Russia’s defense ministry said Friday that it was targeting a meeting between military officials and foreign arms suppliers.
Much of the fighting in Ukraine is currently centered in the eastern Donbas region. Russian forces, however, also regularly fire on cities in many other parts of the country, including on Thursday in Vinnytsia, hundreds of kilometers from the front lines.
Ukraine said the strike on the central city was carried out by cruise missiles launched from a Russian submarine in the Black Sea.
Among the dead was a 4-year-old girl with Down syndrome, whose image has gone viral. Ukrainian officials said more than 100 people were wounded in the attack.
On Friday, rescue teams searched through the debris for people still missing in the attack. Residents of the city created a makeshift memorial with flowers and teddy bears.
“The simple truth is that, as we speak, children, women and men, the young and the old, are living in terror,” International Criminal Court Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan said on Thursday at the opening of the Ukraine Accountability Conference in The Hague, with about 40 nations in attendance.
Khan said an “overarching strategy” is needed to bring those guilty of conducting war crimes in Ukraine to justice.
Ukraine has granted the ICC jurisdiction over the crimes committed within the country, opening the door to the court’s investigations, since neither Ukraine nor Russia is an ICC member.
Police in Vinnytsia said three missiles hit an office building in the center of the city, about 270 kilometers southwest of the capital, Kyiv. The strikes also damaged residential buildings in the area and engulfed 50 cars in a nearby parking lot.
“This is the act of Russian terror,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told the ICC meeting in a video address.
The governor of the Vinnytsia region, Serhiy Borzov, said Ukrainian air defense systems shot down four more missiles over the area.
With a population of 370,000, Vinnytsia is one of Ukraine’s largest cities. Thousands of people from eastern Ukraine, where Russia has concentrated its offensive, have fled there since the start of the war in late February.
Russia has denied targeting civilians in Ukraine.
Despite the fighting, both sides have indicated signs of progress toward an agreement to end a blockade of Ukrainian grain.
Turkey, which has been mediating the efforts, said a deal could be signed next week.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Igor Konashenkov said a final document had been prepared and was set to be completed “in the nearest time,” according to The Associated Press.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Wednesday that there was “broad agreement” on a deal between Russia and Ukraine, with Turkey and the United Nations, to export millions of tons of Ukrainian grain stuck in silos since Russia’s invasion on February 24.
More than 20 million tons of Ukrainian grain are being stored in silos at the Black Sea port of Odesa, and dozens of ships have been stranded because of Russia’s blockade. Turkey said it has 20 merchant ships waiting in the region that could be quickly loaded and dispatched to world markets.
The grain deal has been in the works for months, with U.N. officials raising the alarm right after the war started about the consequences for global food security if Ukraine, one of the world’s top grain exporters, was unable to get its harvests out.
VOA’s Jeff Seldin contributed to this report. Some information came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.