Ukraine has refused to deny attacking an oil facility inside Russia after two helicopters flew 25 miles past the border and fired rockets at a depot, causing a huge fireball this morning.
Regional governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said the helicopters flew at low altitude to Belgorod where they fired S-8 rockets at a Roseneft depot. Several nearby businesses were also reported hit.
There were initial fears it was a false flag after claims Russia would try to justify an escalation of conflict or an excuse to walk out of peace talks by staging an attack within its own territory.
But now Ukraine have refused to deny the daring blitz in what was the first air strike to target Russian soil since WWII.
Ukrainian ministry spokesperson Oleksandr Motuzyanyk said: ‘Ukraine is currently conducting a defensive operation against Russian aggression on the territory of Ukraine, and this does not mean that Ukraine is responsible for every catastrophe on Russia’s territory… I will not confirm or deny these allegations.’
Foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba added: ‘I can neither confirm nor reject the claim that Ukraine was involved in this simply because I do not possess all the military information.’
Video shared on social media appeared to show the attack happening at 5.43am local time, followed by helicopters flying away from the blaze, although analysts have noted Russia uses the same time of helicopters as Ukraine.
Russia has now threatened to walk out of peace talks after the attack, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying: ‘Of course, this is not something that can be perceived as creating comfortable conditions for the continuation of negotiations.’
It comes as Ukraine is making gains within its own borders, recapturing the two strategic villages of Sloboda and Lukashivka on a main supply route, while Putin is continuing to send units back to Belarus and to the Donbas where he is now concentrating his war effort.
As day broke in Belgorod, the oil facility was ablaze, with the fire allegedly sparked by Ukrainian missiles
Two people were injured in the Belgorod facility blaze, the Russian governor said, but they were expected to survive
The oil facility is only 25 miles from the border with Ukraine, and was ablaze on Friday morning
There have been fears that Russia would stage a false flag attack on itself to justify an escalation of the war or to back out of peace talks
Firefighters try to tackle the huge blaze at the oil depot this morning as plumes of black smoke billow from the site
Volodymyr Zelensky warned last night that although Russia is still yet to capture a major city after five weeks of war, Ukraine still faces a difficult challenge.
‘There will be battles ahead. We still need to go down a very difficult path to get everything we want,’ he said.
‘The situation in the south and in the Donbas remains extremely difficult.’
On Tuesday, similar footage emerged of a huge explosion in Belgorod, at the site of a suspected arms depot.
The depot was initially believed to have been hit by a Ukrainian missile. However, analysts later concluded that the blast was likely due to human error, rather than a deliberate attack.
Ukrainian journalist Yuriy Butusov claimed that the depot was destroyed by an OTR-21 Tochka-U ballistic missile fired by the Ukrainian 19th missile brigade, but his report was not confirmed by Ukrainian officials.
Gladkov, the regional governor, confirmed reports of the explosion and said that no Russian citizens were hurt, but refused to shed any light on the reason for the blast.
‘Explosions were heard on the territory of Belgorod and the Belgorod region,’ Gladkov said.
‘The incident took place near the village of Krasniy Oktyabr. The head of the village is in direct contact with me and has given me all the information. There are no casualties or injuries among the residents.’
‘I’ll post the reason for this later,’ he added.
However, Russian news agency TASS reported that four Russian military personnel were injured and said preliminary reports suggested the explosion was caused by a Ukrainian missile.
‘The shell hit the territory of a temporary military camp in the Belgorod region. Four servicemen were injured,’ an emergency services source told TASS.
Photos on social media appeared to show the oil facility in Belgorod ablaze in the early hours of Friday
Europe has just a MONTH of gas supplies left before Putin’s threat to turn off gas bites
Europe has just a month of gas supplies left before Vladimir Putin’s threat to turn off the pipelines if foreign buyers refuse to pay in roubles will start to bite.
European leaders can continue paying in euros or dollars for another month because payments for gas delivered to Europe in April is not due until the end of the month on some contracts and on others, not until early May.
The rouble soared back to its pre-war level last night, trading at 82.75 to the dollar, as it continues to recover after falling to historic lows when the West applied sanctions after President Putin sent his army into Ukraine on February 24
The revelation comes as the rouble soared back to its pre-war level last night, trading at 82.75 roubles to the dollar, following the Russian President’s latest attempt to ‘blackmail’ states reliant on Moscow’s energy in what has been seen as a bid to shore up the currency.
Russia has been hit by sweeping sanctions on its economy and trade since the start of Putin’s war in Ukraine, pushing the rouble to historic lows, but measures by EU governments have not targeted oil and gas contracts with Moscow because many member states are heavily reliant on the Kremlin’s supplies.
Europe is heavily reliant on Russia for its energy needs, with around 40% of its gas coming from the country. If Moscow decides to turn off the taps it could trigger supply shortages, factory closures and crippling energy costs across the region.
Europe’s continued purchase of oil and gas, which costs the EU around £266million a day, severely undermines Western sanctions on Russia as the purchases hand Moscow a wodge of foreign money with which the Kremlin can bolster the economy and currency, as well as fund the faltering war next door.
But Putin’s latest demands of gas payments in roubles are an attempt to force the West to evade their own sanctions on the Russian economy as buyers have to convert foreign currency into roubles, which are only available through the sanctioned central bank.
European companies and governments yesterday remained adamant they would continue to settle their contracts in euros or dollars and rejected the demands as a breach of existing agreements.
It comes as British military intelligence said today Ukrainian forces have retaken the villages of Sloboda and Lukashivka to the south of Chernihiv and located along main supply routes between the city and Kyiv.
‘Ukraine has also continued to make successful but limited counter attacks to the east and north east of Kyiv,’ Britain’s Ministry of Defence said.
Chernihiv and Kyiv have been subjected to continued air and missile strikes despite Russian claims of reducing activity in these areas, the ministry added.
Elsewhere, Russian troops left the heavily contaminated Chernobyl nuclear site early on Friday morning after returning control to the Ukrainians, authorities said, and eastern parts of the country braced for renewed attacks – and Russians blocked another aid mission to the besieged port city of Mariupol.
Ukraine’s state power company, Energoatom, said the pullout at Chernobyl came after soldiers received ‘significant doses’ of radiation from digging trenches in the forest in the exclusion zone around the closed plant. But there was no independent confirmation of that.
The exchange of control happened amid growing indications the Kremlin is using talk of de-escalation in Ukraine as cover to regroup, resupply its forces and redeploy them for a stepped-up offensive in the eastern part of the country.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned that Russian withdrawals from the north and center of the country were just a military tactic to build up forces for new powerful attacks in the southeast.
A new round of talks between the countries was scheduled for Friday, five weeks into a conflict that has left thousands dead and driven four million Ukrainians from the country.
‘We know their intentions,’ Zelensky said in his nightly video address to the nation.
‘We know that they are moving away from those areas where we hit them in order to focus on other, very important ones where it may be difficult for us.’
‘There will be battles ahead,’ he added.
Following a plea from Zelensky when he addressed Australian Parliament on Thursday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that his country would send mine-resistant armored personnel carriers to Ukraine.
He said Friday the four-wheel drive ‘Bushmaster’ vehicles, specifically requested by Zelensky, would be flown in to Europe but did not say how many would be delivered or when.
‘We’re not just sending our prayers, we are sending our guns, we’re sending our munitions, we’re sending our humanitarian aid, we’re sending all of this, our body armor, all of these things and we’re going to be sending our armored vehicles, our Bushmasters, as well,’ Morrison said.
In the encircled strategic port city of Mariupol, Russian forces blocked a convoy of 45 buses attempting to evacuate people after the Russian military agreed to a limited cease-fire in the area.
Only 631 people were able to get out of the city in private cars, according to the Ukrainian government.
Russian forces also seized 14 tons of food and medical supplies in a dozen buses that were trying to make it to Mariupol, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.
The city has been the scene of some of the worst suffering of the war.
Tens of thousands have managed to get out in the past few weeks by way of humanitarian corridors, reducing the population from a prewar 430,000 to an estimated 100,000 by last week, but other relief efforts have been thwarted by continued Russian attacks.
As Western officials search for clues about what Russia’s next move might be, a top British intelligence official said demoralized Russian soldiers in Ukraine are refusing to carry out orders and sabotaging their equipment and had accidentally shot down their own aircraft.
U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that Putin is being misinformed by his advisers about how badly the war is going because they are afraid to tell him the truth.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the U.S. is wrong and that ‘neither the State Department nor the Pentagon possesses the real information about what is happening in the Kremlin.’
Russian forces seize 14 TONNES of food and medical supplies bound for besieged Mariupol – and BLOCK convoy of 45 buses attempting to evacuate civilians despite ceasefire
By Chris Jewers for MailOnline
Russian forces have seized 14 tonnes of supplies destined for the besieged city of Mariupol, where thousands of desperate Ukrainians are dangerously low on food, water and other vital supplies.
A group of 45 buses, travelling with the Red Cross convoy carrying aid to the city, was stopped in the town of Berdyansk in Russian-held territory. Vladimir Putin’s troops looted the supplies being carried by the buses, reports said.
The Russian intervention came despite Moscow agreeing to a ceasefire from 10am local time yesterday to open a humanitarian corridor. The buses were to be used to evacuate citizens from the city which has been all-but razed by Russian shelling.
Around of 15 of the buses were able to return to Zaporizhzhia, found 120 miles north-west of Mariupol, with some civilians on-board. It was unclear whether the remaining 30 would be allowed to proceed.
Few humanitarian buses have managed to get people out of the city, but many have escaped in their cars – or even on foot – often under fire. The Ukrainian government said only 631 people were able to get out of the city in private cars in the last day.
The city has been the scene of some of the worst suffering of the war. Kyiv has said that at least 5,000 people have been killed in the city, but that number could be as high as 20,000, according to one Ukrainian official.
Tens of thousands have managed to get out in the past few weeks by way of humanitarian corridors, reducing the population from a pre-war 430,000 to an estimated 100,000 by last week, but other relief efforts have been thwarted by continued Russian attacks.
Russian forces have seized 14 tonnes of food and medical supplies destined for the besieged city of Mariupol, Kyiv has said. Pictured: Evacuees from Mariupol region arrive at reception centre, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues, in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, March 31, 2022
Two young boys are seen on an evacuation bus that arrived at reception centre in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, March 31, 2022, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues
Ukraine’s deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk said that Russian forces seized 14 tonnes of supplies, while the deputy mayor of Mariupol said that the city remained closed for anyone trying to enter and was ‘dangerous’ for those trying to leave.
Petro Andryushchenko said Russian forces had since Thursday been preventing even the smallest amount of humanitarian supplies reaching trapped residents, making clear a planned ‘humanitarian corridor’ had not been opened.
‘The city remains closed to entry and very dangerous to exit with personal transport,’ he said on the Telegram messaging app.
‘In addition, since yesterday the occupiers have categorically not allowed any humanitarian aid – even in small quantities – into the city.’
The Mariupol mayor said this week that as many as 170,000 residents were trapped there with no power and dwindling supplies. There have been suggestions that due to a lack of connectivity, many of those still in the city are not even aware of the evacuation attempts, or where meeting points are.
Since Mariupol has been under siege following Putin’s invasion on February 24, repeated attempts to organise safe corridors have failed, with each side blaming the other. Russia denies attacking civilians in its assault on Ukraine, despite evidence.
The governor of the Luhansk region in eastern Ukraine said separately that he hoped five safe corridors would be opened on Friday to towns and cities in his region.
Refugees from Mariupol have told horror stories of bodies lining the streets and families forced to kill their dogs for food. There have also been reports of Russian soldiers raping women and killing in the city.
Vladimir Putin has made clear the siege and bombing will continue after the humanitarian operation, insisting that the bombardment will only stop once all Ukrainian troops surrender.
Evacuees from Mariupol region arrive at reception centre, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues, in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, March 31, 2022
Local residents cook food outside an apartment building damaged during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine March 30, 2022
Late last night, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky warned Russia is consolidating and preparing ‘powerful strikes’ in the country’s east and south, including besieged Mariupol.
‘This is part of their tactics,’ said Zelensky in a now-customary address to the nation.
‘We know that they are moving away from the areas where we are beating them to focus on others that are very important… where it can be difficult for us,’ he said.
In particular, he warned, the situation in the country’s south and east was ‘very difficult’. ‘In Donbas and Mariupol, in the Kharkiv direction, the Russian army is accumulating the potential for attacks, powerful attacks,’ he said.
Military experts believe that Moscow is ditching efforts to advance simultaneously along multiple axes in the north, east and south, after struggling to overcome stronger-than-expected Ukrainian resistance.
Instead it wants to establish a long-sought land link between Crimea, which Moscow occupied in 2014, and the two Russian-backed Donbas separatist regions of Donetsk and Lugansk.
Mariupol is the main remaining obstacle to that ambition, and Russian forces have encircled and relentlessly bombarded the city to try to capture it.
Instead, it has been reduced to rubble by indiscriminate Russian shelling with tens of thousands of civilians trapped inside with little food, water or medicine.
Previous attempts to evacuate residents have collapsed, though some have made the dangerous dash to freedom alone, but on Friday Russia says it will allow a humanitarian corridor organised by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
The ICRC’s Ukraine delegation said on Twitter it was in nearby Zaporizhzhia, where buses from the encircled city are meant to arrive.
‘We hope to be able to facilitate safe passage for civilians desperately wanting to flee Mariupol. We are also here with two trucks of assistance, hoping that we can also get assistance in,’ the organisation’s Lucile Marbeau said in a video.
‘In these trucks there is food, medicine, relief items, for those civilians who decide to stay,’ she added.
Local residents carry supplies while walking past an apartment building damaged during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine March 31, 2022
Local resident Pavel, 42, stands next to the grave of his friend Igor, who was killed by shelling while they were riding together in a car during Ukraine-Russia conflict, in a residential area in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine March 30, 2022
Earlier this week, Mariupol’s mayor said more than 20,000 of the city’s residents had been taken ‘against their will’ to Russia, where their identity documents were confiscated and before they were moved ‘to Russian cities far away.’
The office said on Wednesday that: ‘More than 70 people, women and medical personnel from maternity hospital No. 2 from the left bank district were taken by force by the occupiers.’
In recent days, France, Greece and Turkey have been trying to organise a mass evacuation of civilians from Mariupol, but talks between French President Emmanuel Macron and Putin ended Tuesday without a deal.
The proposal was rejected by the Russian leader, who said ‘nationalists’ in the city must surrender before the ‘difficult humanitarian situation’ is resolved, effectively scuppering the proposed relief mission.
Kyiv said on Wednesday Russian forces struck a Red Cross facility in Mariupol.
On the same day, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned shelling of the city would only end when Ukrainian troops in the city surrender.
‘In Mariupol, the occupiers aimed at the building of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC),’ Ukrainian ombudswoman Lyudmyla Denisova said in a statement, adding the building ‘marked with a red cross on a white background’ was targeted by aircraft and artillery.
Drone footage taken over the city shows the devastating trail of destruction wrought by Putin
Homes, administrative buildings and cultural landmarks have all been shelled in the brutal campaign
Thousands of people have died in Mariupol since the city was subjected to horrific bombardment, and the theatre has been completely destroyed (pictured)
BEFORE: A satellite image shows home and buildings in Mariupol in June last year before the Russian invasion
AFTER: A photo taken on Tuesday shows the scale of devastation on the port city wrought by Putin’s army
Russian forces struck a Red Cross facility in Mariupol but no staff were inside after it was evacuated
An ICRC spokeswoman confirmed that images circulating across social media of a destroyed building were warehouses belonging to the organisation in Mariupol. They showed a building with huge holes in the roof – and a red cross.
‘We do not have a team on the ground so we have no other information, including on potential casualties or damage,’ the spokeswoman said, adding that all aid stored there had been distributed.
The attack came a day after the ICRC urged Ukraine and Russia to agree on the delivery of aid and safe evacuation of civilians from the city
Meanwhile, Russia has moved about 20 percent of its troops from around Kyiv but its strikes have continued and troops are likely ‘going to be repositioned, probably into Belarus, to be refitted and resupplied and used elsewhere in Ukraine,’ said Pentagon spokesman John Kirby.
Russian troops have also pulled back from the Chernobyl nuclear plant after weeks of occupation, but have taken a number of captive Ukrainian servicemen with them, according to officials in Kyiv.
And in a sign that the war could be expanding in scope, a Russian official said Friday that Ukrainian helicopters had carried out a strike on a fuel depot in the Russian town of Belgorod, some 30 kilometres (19 miles) from the border with Ukraine.
Western intelligence has claimed Putin’s advisors may be ‘afraid to tell him the truth’ and US President Joe Biden has suggested some advisors may even have been placed under house arrest, though he cautioned ‘there’s a lot of speculation.’
Read more at DailyMail.co.uk