Ukraine claims Crimea landing in ‘special operation’

Ukraine said on Thursday its forces had flown the country’s flag in Russian-annexed Crimea during a “special operation” to mark its second wartime Independence Day, as Norway announced fighter jets for Kyiv.

Kyiv has repeatedly said it aims to take back Crimea, which is recognised internationally as part of Ukraine but has been controlled by Russia since 2014, when Moscow’s forces seized the peninsula. 

Ukraine’s GUR intelligence agency said its special forces had landed overnight on Crimea’s western shore near the towns of Olenivka and Mayak, where they had “engaged in combat”.

“As a result, the enemy suffered losses among personnel. Enemy equipment was destroyed,” it said, adding that the “state flag flew again in the Ukrainian Crimea”.

Ukraine has launched multiple attacks on the Black Sea peninsula since the start of Moscow’s invasion, and refers to the territory as “temporarily occupied” in statements.

Kyiv said Wednesday it had destroyed a powerful Russian S-400 anti-aircraft system in that area, inflicting a “painful blow” on enemy air defences.

Russian President Vladimir Putin meanwhile became the first official to confirm that Yevgeny Prigozhin and other senior members of the Wagner mercenary group had died in a Wednesday evening plane crash.

The crash, which many speculate to have been an assassination, took place exactly two months after Prigozhin led his forces in a rebellion against Moscow’s top military brass.

Putin offered his “sincere condolences” to the victims’ families and said while Prigozhin had made “serious mistakes” in his life, he had “achieved the right results.”

– ‘Difficult times’ –

Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store, who made a surprise Independence Day visit to Kyiv, announced his country would donate an unspecified number of F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine to bolster its Soviet-era air force.

Norway is the third country after Denmark and the Netherlands to pledge F-16s to Ukraine.

In Washington, the Pentagon announced it would start F-16 training for “several” Ukrainian pilots and “dozens” of maintenance personnel next month, beginning with English language lessons.

The training would normally last from five to eight months, Pentagon spokesman Pat Ryder said, depending on the skills the pilots already possess.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in his Independence Day message, urged his fellow citizens not to “lose faith in these difficult times”.

“We honoured the memory of the fallen defenders of our country,” Zelensky wrote in a Telegram message after visiting Saint Sophia’s Cathedral in Kyiv with his wife.

Freedom, he added, is a “value for each of us and we are fighting for it”.

On Khreshchatyk Street in the heart of the Ukrainian capital, people took selfies next to charred and wrecked Russian tanks and armoured vehicles captured from the battlefield.

People milled around the street, gazing at the hardware that had been arranged in a long line as war trophies.

The country’s head of military intelligence, Kyrylo Budanov, said on Telegram that the fight for independence “continues to this day — now with the imperial aggressor” Russia.

The state holiday, which marks 32 years since Ukraine declared its post-Soviet independence from Moscow, comes as the war with Russia entered its 19th month.

– Strikes on infrastructure –

A Russian missile strike wounded at least 10 people were in the central city of Dnipro, a regional administration official wrote on Telegram. At least three had to be hospitalised.

The official posted several photos of a damaged transport facility, showing gutted buildings, shattered windows and debris.

In southern Ukraine, Russian shelling in the southern city of Kherson wounded a seven-year-old girl, who was rushed to hospital, regional administration official Oleksandr Prokudin wrote on Telegram.

Ukrainian troops recaptured the city in November and it continues to face Russian bombardment.

DTEK, the largest commercial energy company in Ukraine, said on Telegram that one of its thermal power plants was hit by Russian bombardment. It suffered damage in the attack but there were no casualties, it added.

Repeated strikes on energy infrastructure last winter plunged Ukrainian cities into darkness and cold.

In Moscow, a court sentenced Russian blogger and political activist Maxim Katz in absentia to eight years jail on charges of having spread “false information” about the Russian army.

Katz, who has fled Russia, regularly criticises the conflict on his YouTube channel, which has more than 1.8 million subscribers.

Another Russian court extended by three months the detention of Wall Street Journal correspondent Evan Gershkovich, who had been reporting from Russia during the war when he was arrested and accused of spying.

And the United States announced fresh sanctions on Russian officials and groups on Thursday over what rights organisations call the forced transfer of thousands of Ukrainian children since Moscow’s invasion.


Originally published as Ukraine claims Crimea landing in ‘special operation’

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