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Russia preparing to attack southern Ukraine, Kyiv says, as U.S. announces more military aid

A firefighter waits for his engine truck to resume water pressure so that they can put out a house that caught fire after a bombardment landed in Lysychansk, Ukraine. (Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Tens of thousands of Russian troops were preparing to advance on the cities of Kryviy Rih and Mykolayiv in southern Ukraine, presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych has said, as Moscow pounded the Dnipropetrovsk region with rocket fire and the United States announced a fresh batch of armaments and munitions for Kyiv.

Arestovych estimated that the Russian attack force numbered about 22,000 soldiers and said that a “sufficiently large” Ukrainian contingent lays in wait.

The head of the Dnipropetrovsk region’s military administration, Valentyn Reznichenko, reported that Russian troops fired rocket launchers and artillery at the Synelnykove and Kriviy Rih districts of the Dnipropetrovsk region.

“The enemy hit [Synelnykove] with an anti-aircraft missile. In Pokrovska hromada, there is destruction of housing, damaged cars,” he wrote on Telegram.

Powerful explosions again targeted the Black Sea port city of Mykolayiv on August 2 in the morning and one person was wounded, city Mayor Oleksandr Sienkovych said.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said 5,327 civilians have been killed and 7,257 wounded in Ukraine since the start of Russia’s invasion.

The United States on August 1 announced a new tranche of weapons for Ukraine, including ammunition for rocket launchers and artillery guns that Ukrainian military officials say have been critical in the fight to repel Russian troops and strike their supply lines.

The new $550 million package will “include more ammunition for the high- mobility advanced rocket systems otherwise known as HIMARS, as well as ammunition” for artillery, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters at the White House.

This brings the total of military assistance committed to Ukraine since President Joe Biden took office to more than $8 billion, Kirby said.

HIMARS have a longer range and are more precise than the Soviet-era artillery that Ukraine had in its arsenal.

“To meet its evolving battlefield requirements, the United States will continue to work with its allies and partners to provide Ukraine with key capabilities,” the Pentagon said in a statement.

The White House said U.S. officials held a call on August 1 with top Ukrainian officials to discuss the new aid package.

“The U.S. officials provided their counterparts with details of a new package that the Biden Administration will authorize today to provide Ukraine with additional ammunition for the HIMARS and artillery systems that are making a difference on the battlefield,” a White House statement said.

The call came after Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s call with Ukrainian Minister of Defense Oleksiy Reznikov on July 29 in which he previewed upcoming security assistance plans.

The call on August 1 was between Secretary of State Antony Blinken, national-security adviser Jake Sullivan, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, Ukrainian President Andriy Yermak, and Valeriy Zaluzhniy, commander in chief of the Ukrainian military, the White House said in a statement.

Separately, Blinken said Russia was using Ukraine’s biggest nuclear power plant at Zaporizhzhya as a “nuclear shield” by stationing troops there, preventing Ukrainian forces from returning fire and risking a terrible nuclear accident.

Blinken said Washington was “deeply concerned” that the Zaporizhzhya plant, which Russia was accused of firing shells dangerously close to in March, was now a Russian military base used to fire on nearby Ukrainian forces.