Russian drones light Black Sea hotel on fire as Ukraine army chief warns about front line pressure

KYIV, Ukraine — Russian drones early Sunday struck the Black Sea city of Mykolaiv, setting a hotel ablaze and damaging energy infrastructure, Ukrainian officials said, while the army chief warned of a worsening situation as his forces wait for much-needed arms from a huge U.S. aid package to reach the front lines.

Vitaliy Kim, the governor of Ukraine’s southern Mykolaiv province, said that Russian drones “seriously damaged” a hotel in its namesake capital, sparking a fire that was later extinguished. Kim also reported that the strike damaged heat-generating infrastructure in the city. He added that there were no casualties.

Russian state agency RIA reported that the strike on Mykolaiv targeted a shipyard where naval drones are assembled, as well as a hotel housing “English-speaking mercenaries” who have fought for Kyiv. The RIA report cited Sergei Lebedev, described as a coordinator of local pro-Moscow guerrillas. His comments couldn’t be independently verified.

Russia drones attacked Mykolaiv, lighting a hotel on fire. via REUTERS

Also on Sunday, Ukraine’s army chief reported that the battlefield situation was worsening for Kyiv, with Ukrainian forces tactically retreating along three sections of the front line in the eastern Donetsk region. In a post on the Telegram messaging app, Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyi said that Russian troops continue to attack “along the entire front line” of more than 1,000 kilometers (620 miles), with pitched battles raging west of the city of Avdiivka.

Russian troops “will likely make significant tactical gains in the coming weeks” while Kyiv awaits badly needed weaponry from the U.S., a Washington-based think tank said.

In its latest operational assessment, the Institute for the Study of War said that Moscow’s forces have opportunities to push forward around Avdiivka, the eastern city they took in late February after a grueling, montshlong fight, and threaten nearby Chasiv Yar.

Its capture would give Russia control of a hilltop from which it can attack other key cities forming the backbone of Ukraine’s eastern defenses.

Despite this, the think tank assessed that neither of these efforts by Moscow are likely to cause Kyiv’s defensive lines to collapse “in the near term.”

A destroyed car and damaged residential buildings are seen at the site of a Russian missile strike, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Mykolaiv, Ukraine March 17, 2024.
A destroyed car and damaged residential buildings are seen at the site of a Russian missile strike, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Mykolaiv, Ukraine March 17, 2024. via REUTERS

U.S. President Biden promised on Wednesday that U.S. weapons shipments would begin making their way into Ukraine within hours, as he signed into law a $95 billion measure — $61 billion of which was allocated for Ukraine — that also included assistance for Israel, Taiwan and other global hot spots.

The announcement marked an end to the long, painful battle with Republicans in Congress over urgently needed assistance for Ukraine.

The Russian Defense Ministry on Sunday confirmed that Moscow’s troops had taken a village about 15 kilometers (9 miles) north of Avdiivka, days after the war institute reported on its likely capture early on Thursday.

That day’s assessment described Moscow’s gains as “relatively quick but still relatively marginal,” adding that Russian troops had advanced by no more than 5 kilometers (3 miles) over the previous week.

Also on Sunday morning, the Russian Defense Ministry said that 17 Ukrainian drones were downed overnight over four regions in the country’s southwest.

Three drones were intercepted near an oil depot in Lyudinovo, an industrial town about 230 kilometers (143 miles) north of the Ukrainian border, Gov. Vladislav Shapsha said.

One of the Ukrainian drones damaged communications infrastructure in Russia’s southern Belgorod province, which borders Ukraine, Gov. Vyachaslav Gladkov said later on Sunday. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

The Russian Defense Ministry claimed Sunday that its forces had destroyed ammunition depots and military equipment housed at three airports across Ukraine, including assault drones stored at Kamyanka Airfield in the country’s east.

The ministry’s online update said the attacks took place over the last 24 hours. There was no immediate comment from Kyiv.

Russian shelling on Saturday and overnight wounded at least seven civilians across Ukraine, according to Ukrainian officials.

A 36-year-old woman was pulled alive from the rubble after Russian shells on Sunday morning destroyed her home in the northeastern Kharkiv region, the local administration reported.

Her 52-year-old neighbor was also rushed to a hospital with a stomach wound, the administration said.

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