Kyiv (Ukraine) (AFP) -
Kyiv said Tuesday it had launched artillery barrages that a destroyed a Russian arms depot and carried out a 'special operation' to free military captives in the Moscow-controlled Kherson region.
The bombardments in the south came as the EU green-lit one billion euros in aid for Ukraine and Turkey announced that delegations from Moscow and Kyiv would meet in Istanbul on Wednesday to discuss the resumption of stalled grain deliveries across the Black Sea.
The bombardment overnight in the Kherson region, which Russian forces captured soon after they invaded in late February, were reported as Kyiv tries to claw back territory in the south.
Ukrainian military officials said the strikes had destroyed artillery, armoured vehicles 'and a warehouse with ammunition' in Nova Kakhovka.
Russian-backed authorities, however, accused the Ukrainians of damaging civilian infrastructure and killing at least seven people, a toll that could not be independently verified.
'There are no military targets here,' the head of the city's Moscow-backed administration, Vladimir Leontiev, said on social media.
'Warehouses were hit, as were shops, a pharmacy, petrol stations and even a church,' he added.
Ukrainian military intelligence said separately that its troops had rescued five people in a 'special operation' in Kherson, including a military serviceman and former police officer, without specifying when.
- EU financial aid -
The Ukrainian army has for several weeks been waging a counter-offensive designed to recapture Kherson, while Russian troops have focused on trying to capture the entire eastern Donbas region.
The deputy head of the pro-Russian authorities in Kherson, Ekaterina Gubareva, accused Ukraine of having used long-range, precision artillery systems supplied by the United States in the strikes in Nova Kakhovka.
Military analysts are crediting newly arrived systems from the West -- including HIMARS from the United States -- with attacks deeper in Russian-controlled territory in Ukraine, including on ammunition depots.
EU member states, which have been supplying Ukraine with military support, on Tuesday also approved one billion euros in financial support for Kyiv.
'This will give Ukraine the necessary funds to cover urgent needs and ensure the operation of critical infrastructure,' said Zbynek Stanjura, the finance minister of the Czech Republic, which holds the EU's rotating presidency.
The United States, however, cautioned Monday that Iran was planning to supply drones with combat weapon capabilities to Russia for use in Ukraine.
Russian forces early Tuesday launched 'massive' strikes on the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv, with missiles hitting two medical facilities and residential buildings, the city's mayor Oleksandr Sienkevych said.
The regional head, Vitaliy Kim, said 12 people were wounded.
- 'Front getting closer' -
The heaviest fighting in recent weeks has centred on the industrial east in the Donbas where Moscow's forces have slowly advanced despite fierce resistance since failing to capture Kyiv after its February 24 invasion.
Ukrainian emergency services said the death toll had risen to 35, two days after Russian bombardment flattened a residential building in the eastern town of Chasiv Yar, in the Donetsk region of the Donbas.
In Bakhmut -- one of the few remaining cities under Ukrainian control in the eastern region -- AFP journalists could hear nearby artillery fire.
'I'd like to evacuate too but my parents don't want to. Everyone has gone. I only have one friend left here,' said eight-year-old Sofia, watching around two dozen people gather near the town hall to evacuate further west.
'The front is getting closer,' said municipal offical, Dmytro Podkuyidko, estimating the more than one-third of the town's esimtated population of 73,000 have fled.
'If it gets worse, I'll end up leaving too,' Podkuyidko said.
The Kremlin has been working to consolidate its hold over territories it controls like Kherson, both militarily and bureaucratically since the beginning of the conflict.
After Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday passed a decree fast-tracking Russian passports for all Ukrainians, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was expected Tuesday to open a representative office for separatist authorities in Moscow.