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Fresh Russian strikes cause deaths, destroy churches, hospitals, as Ukraine grain dispute mounts

Ukrainian children's hospital reportedly destroyed by Russian invaders (Ukraine Armed Forces/Screenshot)

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

Fighting continued unabated in the eastern Donetsk region as Russian forces struck cities in two southern Ukrainian regions, causing deaths among civilians and damaging infrastructure, while a dispute within the European Union regarding Ukraine’s grain exports continued to escalate.

Russian forces launched 25 missile strikes from S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems and 42 air strikes on the cities of Zaporizhzhya and Komyshuvakha in the Zaporizhzhya region and the town of Snihurivka in the Mykolayiv region, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said in its daily report on April 17.

“There are dead and wounded among the civilian population, high-rise and private residential buildings have been damaged, and education institutions, hospitals, churches, and other civilian infrastructure objectives have been destroyed and damaged,” the military said, without specifying the number of casualties.

Zaporizhzhya administration chief Yuriy Malashko said on Telegram that at least one civilian was wounded in the city as a result of Russian shelling.

Ukrainian defenders repelled more than 50 enemy attacks as Bakhmut and Maryinka remain the epicenter of hostilities, the General Staff said in its evening report on April 17. The report said Russian troops continue to concentrate their offensive actions on the cities and towns of Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiyivka, and Maryinka in Donetsk region.

Separately, Russia’s Defense Ministry said fighters from the Wagner mercenary group have captured two more city blocks in Bakhmut. The claim could not be independently verified.

Ukraine has indicated it will soon launch a counteroffensive to take back more territory. Ukrainian officials have said they are buying time ahead of the expected counteroffensive while depleting Russian forces and supplies in the battles in and around Bakhmut.

Russia’s Defense Ministry claims seven British mercenaries were killed in fighting in Ukraine. The ministry gave no further details, nor did it give details on the location of the battle. Neither British Defense Ministry officials or the British government have commented on the statement by Russia.

Meanwhile, Slovakia on April 17 followed in the steps of Hungary and Poland, announcing that it will temporarily halt imports of grain and other selected food products from Ukraine.

Poland and Hungary announced the bans on April 15, saying they were meant to protect their local agricultural sectors after farmers complained that their incomes were cut by the duty-free movement of large quantities of Ukrainian produce.

Ukraine and Poland on April 17 began talks aimed at reaching an agreement on the grain export matter, which Polish leaders have said would not impact its political and military support for Ukraine. Poland has been one of Ukraine’s staunchest allies since Russia invaded in February last year.

On April 17, a senior EU official said envoys from the bloc’s member countries will meet in Brussels this week to discuss the bans.

Hungary’s Farm Minister Istvan Nagy on April 17 reinforced Budapest’s position, saying it will use “all possible means” to protect its farmers from market disruptions caused by the Ukrainian grain imports and called for a joint EU response, which he said was “unavoidable.”

For its part, Ukraine said it would aim to secure the reopening of food and grain transit via Poland as a “first step” at talks in Warsaw.

Agriculture Minister Mykola Solsky also said there would be additional talks this week in Romania on April 19 and in Slovakia on April 20. The minister’s comments were published on the Telegram messaging app by the Agriculture Ministry.

Separately, Slovakia’s Defense Ministry announced on April 17 that it had handed over all 13 MiG-29 fighters promised to Ukraine.

The first four aircraft were handed over last month, with the remaining nine being also “successfully handed over to the Ukrainian forces,” the ministry’s press service said in a statement.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in his nightly address on April 17 that Ukraine is preparing for a meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group later this week.

Zelenskiy has held “preparatory talks” ahead of the April 21 meeting of representatives of dozens of countries that have been providing arms to Kyiv.

He said Ukraine expects “solid decisions to be taken that will be commensurate with the prospects on the battlefield” during the upcoming meeting of Ukraine’s supporters in the so-called Ramstein format.

One of the main topics at the meeting is likely to be the supply of ammunition, which Zelenskiy discussed with Ukrainian military commanders on April 17. Not only the supply was discussed “but also everything related to production — both by the state and by private companies.”

Oleksiy Danilov, head of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, meanwhile, said Ukraine will launch the counteroffensive when it’s ready, adding that it’s only a matter of time before the country achieves the necessary level of military preparedness to do so.

Danilov told the AP in an interview that Ukraine’s allies are helping Kyiv achieve the level of technical equipment necessary to launch the attack by delivering heavy armored vehicles and ammunition.

But he also expressed frustration that allied countries sometimes “promise one thing and do a completely different one.” He didn’t elaborate.