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Russian attacks kill 10 in Ukraine as U.S. condemns forced transfers

Ukrainian servicemen taking cover in a shelter
Ukrainian servicemen take cover in a shelter at the front line near Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Tuesday.
(Evgeniy Maloletka / Associated Press)
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Russian missile strikes in Ukraine’s southern city of Mykolaiv killed at least five people, Ukrainian authorities said Wednesday, the latest in a series of artillery barrages across the country in the past day that left at least 10 dead and nearly 20 wounded in eastern and southern regions.

While Mykolaiv has repeatedly been the target of Russian fire in recent days, Russian missiles also struck the town of Zaporizhzhia on Wednesday, an attack that could signal Moscow’s determination to hold onto territory in Ukraine’s south as it aims to fully conquer the east. Ukrainian forces have stepped up actions in a bid to reclaim more territory in the south.

Amid the artillery and missile strikes, U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken accused Russia of committing a war crime by forcibly deporting hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian men, women and children to Russia in a bid to change Ukraine’s demographic makeup.

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Some of the deaths occurred in Donetsk province, which is part of a region where pro-Russia separatists have fought Ukrainian forces for eight years and that the Kremlin is intent on capturing. The city of Bakhmut faced particularly heavy shelling as the current focus of Russia’s offensive, Donetsk administrative chief Pavlo Kyrylenko said.

In adjacent Luhansk province, which Russian and separatist rebels have all but conquered, Ukrainian soldiers battled to retain control of two outlying villages amid the shelling, Gov. Serhiy Haidai said.

Luhansk and Donetsk together make up Ukraine’s Donbas region, a mostly Russian-speaking region of steel factories, mines and other industry vital to the economy. The Russians are “deliberately turning Donbas into ashes, and there will be just no people left on the territories captured,” Haidai said.

A wife and mother is killed in her courtyard during Russian shelling. Her husband won’t let go of the body.

Russian artillery also rained down in northeast Ukraine, where a regional governor, Oleh Sinegubov, accused Russian forces of trying to “terrorize civilians” in Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city.

Blinken, meanwhile, strongly condemned the “unlawful transfer and deportation of protected persons” from areas in Ukraine that Russia now controls.

“Russian authorities must release those detained and allow Ukrainian citizens forcibly removed or coerced into leaving their country the ability to promptly and safely return home,” Blinken said in a statement.

He said an estimated 900,000 to 1.6 million Ukrainian citizens — including 260,000 children — have been interrogated, detained and sent to Russia, in areas including the country’s far east.

A Ukrainian filmmaker records the voices of war. She listens to Ukrainians and Russians in collecting a haunting oral history of the conflict.

Blinken cited mounting evidence that Russian authorities are detaining, torturing or “disappearing” thousands of Ukrainian civilians whom Russia considers threatening because of their potential ties to the Ukrainian army, media, government or civil society groups. Some Ukrainians, according to reports, have been summarily executed.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his government “will not be able to engage in these systematic abuses with impunity. Accountability is imperative,” said Blinken. “The United States and our partners will not be silent. Ukraine and its citizens deserve justice.”

With Russia’s sights set on the east, the Ukrainian military has tried to reclaim a captured city in the south. The Ukrainian military claimed Tuesday to have used missiles to destroy a Russian ammunition depot in occupied Nova Kakhovka, a city east of the Black Sea port of Kherson.

The precision of the depot strike suggested that Ukrainian forces had employed U.S.-supplied multiple-launch High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, a type of weapon for which the government in Kyiv repeatedly appealed.

Leaders of the Group of 7 industrial nations have tentatively agreed to back a cap on the price of Russian oil, the main source of Moscow’s revenue.

Russia’s Tass news agency said the reported blast occurred when a mineral fertilizer storage facility exploded. Some of the ingredients in fertilizer can be used for ammunition.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian and Russian officials were expected to meet face to face Wednesday for the first time in months. Military delegations from the two countries and Turkey plan to hold talks in Istanbul on a potential deal to get grain out of Ukraine’s blockaded and mined ports.

United Nations representatives also were involved in the talks. Ukraine is one of the world’s largest exporters of wheat, corn and sunflower oil, but Russia’s invasion halted shipments, endangering food supplies in many developing countries and contributing to higher global prices.

The Ukrainian foreign minister says that grain exports from his country’s ports won’t resume without security guarantees for ship owners, cargo owners and Ukraine as an independent nation.

In the Donetsk town of Chasiv Yar, Ukraine’s emergency services agency said the death toll from a weekend Russian airstrike rose to 47. Rescue crews continued searching for survivors Wednesday in the rubble of three apartment buildings hit by missiles Saturday. The buildings were inhabited mostly by people who work in nearby factories.

A Donetsk separatist leader also said that foreign fighters convicted of terrorism and of trying to overturn constitutional order by working with Ukrainian troops have appealed their death sentences. If the appellate court in the separatists’ self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic rejects the appeals, two British men and a Moroccan could face a firing squad.

Rebel leader Denis Pushilin said about 100 members of Ukrainian National Guard battalion who were captured after the fall of the southern port city of Mariupol were scheduled to appear before a court soon.

Meanwhile, the United Nations refugee agency reported that most Ukrainian refugees want to return to their country but plan to wait until the war subsides. Nearly two-thirds plan to stay put in their host countries for now. The vast majority of refugees from Ukraine are women and children.

The U.N. agency’s findings came in a survey based on 4,900 interviews with refugees in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Moldova, Poland, Romania and Slovakia. Just under 1 in 10 of the Ukrainian refugees surveyed said they planned to move to another host country within the next month.

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