In another setback, Ukraine’s 128th Mountain Assault Brigade provided a death toll for a Russian strike on a Ukrainian medal ceremony Friday, saying in a post on Telegram that it had lost 19 soldiers in the attack.The ceremony was being held in a village near the front lines in the southern region of Zaporizhzhia.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine said Sunday that criminal proceedings were underway over the attack, apparently against Ukrainian military officials who had authorized that the ceremony take place in the open just a few miles back from the front, where the soldiers were vulnerable. Normally, Ukraine’s military holds ceremonies of this type in basements or far from battlefields.
The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine wrote in a Facebook post that the commander of the brigade had been removed from his post.
As the Ukrainian military reeled from the attack on the soldiers, Ukraine’s top military commander, Gen. Valery Zaluzhny, said Monday night that another loss had struck closer to home for him when an explosion killed a close aide.
“Today, under tragic circumstances, on his birthday, my assistant and close friend, Maj. Gennadiy Chastyakov, died,” Zaluzhny said in a statement. Chastyakov was celebrating his birthday when “an unknown explosive device went off in one of the gifts,” Zaluzhny said.
An investigation was underway to establish “the reasons and circumstances” of the incident, Zaluzhny said in the statement. Chastyakov is survived by his wife and four children.
The attack that damaged Odesa’s Fine Arts Museum follows a strike in July on Odesa’s Orthodox Transfiguration Cathedral and is a particular blow to a city that is famous for its history, culture and ethnic pluralism. The museum, founded in 1899, stands in a part of the city that is a Unesco World Heritage Site.
Photographs posted on social media by the head of the regional military administration, Oleh Kiper, showed broken doors and windows and pockmarked walls, and he said seven exhibits had been damaged. A missile gouged a deep crater in the street outside the museum.
“A few centimeters here, a few there, and we could have lost many of our pieces and exhibits,” Odesa’s mayor, Hennadii Trukhanov, told Ukraine’s Suspline television. “Fortunately, this did not happen.”
Staff at the museum, a colonnaded palace, had removed more than 12,000 artworks for safekeeping early last year. Coincidentally, the museum marked its 124th anniversary Monday, according to a Facebook post written by its deputy director, Oleksandra Kovalchuk.
Russian forces have looted museums in the areas they have occupied and targeted churches and theaters in an apparent campaign to erase Ukraine’s culture. President Vladimir Putin of Russia has mounted the spurious argument that Ukraine has no culture independent of Russia as an attempt to justify Russia’s full-scale invasion more than 20 months ago.
In all, Russia fired at least four missiles and 22 exploding drones at Odesa, according to Ukraine’s Armed Forces, which said in a statement that it had shot down two of the missiles and 15 of the drones.
“Unfortunately, kamikaze drones caused damage to the port infrastructure, including warehouses, unloading equipment, and vehicles carrying grain,” Ukraine’s southern command said in a statement on Telegram, a messaging app, adding that the fire had been extinguished.
Kiper said that shrapnel from explosions had wounded five people.
Russia has bombarded Odesa frequently since July, when it terminated a deal that had allowed Ukraine to ship its grain across the Black Sea from Odesa and other ports. Ukraine thwarted Russia’s plan to seize the city early last year but, while the threat of invasion has receded, it remains a crucible of the war, not least because of its position on the Black Sea.
Ukraine has made progress in recent months in its campaign to undermine Russia’s naval dominance. In the latest example, the commander of Ukraine’s air force, Mykola Oleshchuk, said his pilots had staged an airstrike late Friday on the city of Kerch in Crimea, a region occupied by Russia since 2014 and illegally annexed.
The attack damaged a small Russian missile ship, the Askold, which had been undergoing repairs at the shipyard, according to Planet Labs, a private satellite company. Russia’s Defense Ministry also said that one of its ships had sustained damage.
“It’s still afloat, but the ship’s top is noticeably damaged,” said a Ukrainian naval captain, Andrii Ryzhenko, in a post on Facebook after he had analyzed the satellite images. Russia’s Defense Ministry said a Ukrainian attack with 15 cruise missiles had damaged a ship in the docks at Kerch, according to RIA Novosti, a Russian state news agency.
Ukraine has used sea and aerial drones as well as missiles supplied by the country’s allies in NATO to strike the headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol, warships, naval and other military infrastructure and the Kerch Strait Bridge, which connects Crimea to Russia.
The effort has enabled Ukraine to open a maritime corridor for exports of grain and other produce along the Black Sea coast into Romanian waters. In April last year, in the most high-profile strike on Russia’s navy, Ukraine sank the flagship of the Black Sea Fleet.
Overall, this year has yielded little change in front-line positions despite intense fighting, substantial casualties on both sides and a counteroffensive launched by Ukrainian forces in June to retake land in the south and east of the country.
As a result, the country faces a conflict with no immediate end in view, a prospect that for some Ukrainians is a test of morale. It also raises pressure on Ukraine’s government for whom a lack of progress on the battlefield is compounded by signs of wavering among some of Ukraine’s allies, especially in the United States, where some Republicans including former President Donald Trump have called for a halt to military aid.
Zelenskyy called for unity in a speech released late Monday and appealed to the country to gird for the battle ahead against Russia. He also said that now was not the time for an election. Zelenskyy’s five-year term ends early next year and, while elections are suspended under martial law, some analysts had argued that he might find a way to seek a fresh mandate.
“Everyone should think about defending our country. We need to pull ourselves together, avoid unwinding and splitting up into disputes or other priorities,” he said.