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Ukrainian forces strike key bridge in Russian-occupied south

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By Andrea Martinez  with AP
Ukrainian servicemen shoot with SPG-9 recoilless gun during training in Kharkiv region, Ukraine, Tuesday, July 19, 2022.
Ukrainian servicemen shoot with SPG-9 recoilless gun during training in Kharkiv region, Ukraine, Tuesday, July 19, 2022.   -   Copyright  AP Photo   -  

Ukrainian forces have seriously damaged a bridge that is key for supplying Russian troops in southern Ukraine, a regional official said Wednesday.

The southern Kherson region is currently under Russian occupation, and its deputy head - Kirill Stremousov - has confirmed that the bridge, which crosses the Dnipro River, was struck with missiles on Wednesday, scoring 11 hits.

In remarks carried by Russia’s Interfax news agency, he noted that the bridge sustained serious damage but wasn't closed for traffic.

“The bridge is in poor condition now,” Stremousov said, according to Interfax. “The bridge wasn't closed, traffic across it is still continuing, but the situation is serious.”

The 1.4-kilometer bridge is the main crossing across the Dnipro River in the Kherson region. If it’s made unusable it would be hard for the Russian military to keep supplying its forces in the region amid repeated Ukrainian attacks.

Stremousov said that Ukrainian forces used HIMARS launchers supplied by the US to target the bridge, adding that some of them were intercepted by Russian air defences.

The head of the Moscow-appointed Kherson administration, Vladimir Saldo, said in a video message that passenger vehicles were allowed to continue driving across the bridge, but truck traffic was halted to allow quick repairs. He noted that trucks could cross the river using a dam about 80 kilometers (50 miles) away.

Wednesday's shelling of the bridge was the second in as many days. It was lightly damaged by Ukrainian shelling a day earlier, according to the Moscow-backed authorities in Kherson.

Since the invasion of Ukraine this February, Russian troops quickly overran the Kherson region just north of the Crimean Peninsula, that Russia annexed in 2014. They have faced Ukrainian counterattacks, but have largely held their ground.

The British Defense Ministry said Wednesday that the bridge in Kherson was likely still usable after the Ukrainian strikes, but it is a "key vulnerability for Russian Forces.”

“It is one of only two road crossing points over the Dnieper by which Russia can supply or withdraw its forces in the territory it has occupied west of the river,” it added. “Control of Dnieper crossings is likely to become a key factor in the outcome of fighting in the region.”

The Ukrainian attacks on the bridge in Kherson come as the bulk of the Russian forces are stuck in the fighting in the Donbas - Ukraine's eastern industrial heartland - where they have made slow gains despite battling against fierce Ukrainian resistance.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu inspected the troops in the east, ordering them to act more aggressively to down Ukrainian drones and prevent Ukraine's army from shelling the areas that have been taken by Russian forces.

Russia’s ground advance has slowed, in part because Ukraine is using more effective US weapons and in part because of what Russian President Vladimir Putin has called an “operational pause.” Russia has been focusing on aerial bombings with long-range missiles.

Ukrainian officials voiced hope that Russia’s war effort could be drained and that Kyiv could reclaim the invaded parts of the country, such as Kherson and parts of Zaporizhzhia.