Ukraine fires 6 deputy defense ministers as heavy fighting continues in the east

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Six Ukrainian deputy defense ministers were fired Monday following the dismissal two weeks ago of Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov in a corruption scandal, officials said, as heavy fighting against Russian forces continued in the east.

Russia claimed to have struck key Ukrainian facilities in air attacks overnight, hitting stores of Storm Shadow missiles and depleted uranium ammunition along with electronic intelligence centers and training facilities for Ukrainian military scouts.

The deputy defense ministers fired included Hanna Maliar, Vitalii Deyneha and Denys Sharapov, as well as the state secretary of the Defense Ministry, Kostiantyn Vashchenko, according to the Telegram account of Taras Melnychuk, permanent representative of the Cabinet of Ministers.

Melnychuk provided no explanation of the firings, but the government has been investigating accusations of corruption in the military related to purchasing equipment. Rustem Umerov, a Crimean Tatar lawmaker who took over as defense minister, did not immediately issue a statement.

Reznikov was removed earlier this month after a scandal involving the defense ministry’s procurement of military jackets at three times their cost. Reznikov denied the allegations but resigned.

The reshuffling of the department came a day after Ukraine’s military said it captured the village of Klishchiivka from Russian troops after months of fierce battles. Fighting continued Monday as troops tried to hold the village south of the Russian-held city of Bakhmut in the eastern Donetsk region.

Its recapture followed the retaking of the nearby village of Andriivka.

“The enemy is trying with all his might to regain lost positions,” Maliar said in a briefing Monday before she was fired. “Therefore, our fighters hold back the enemy’s attacks there and are entrenched at the achieved frontiers.”

Retaking Klishchiivka is considered tactically important, allowing Ukrainian forces to further extend their gains around Bakhmut.

Russia invaded Ukraine in February last year. Ukraine launched a counteroffensive in June that so far has been marked by small victories but no major breakthroughs. Despite being bolstered by NATO-standard weapons worth billions of dollars, Ukrainian military officials have said there are no quick solutions to puncture Russian defensive lines — only slow, grinding battles that have led to heavy losses.

In his efforts to draw more support, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is headed to the U.S. where he is expected at the White House and on Capitol Hill this week as he visits during the United Nations General Assembly. His visit to Washington comes as Congress debates President Joe Biden’s request to provide as much as $24 billion in military and humanitarian aid for Ukraine.

One supporter in Congress, U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly, a Democrat from Arizona, met with Ukraine officials and soldiers Monday in Kyiv to assess the military’s current needs and discuss ATACMS tactical ballistic missiles, which Biden is considering providing.

“No single capability is going to make the difference between winning and losing,” said Kelly, who praised forces for progress, though he said he wished it would move faster.

In other fighting, six civilians were killed and 16 injured over the past 24 hours as Russia claimed to have used long-range air-launched missiles and drones to strike U.K.-supplied missiles and depleted uranium ammunition that can be used to destroy tanks.

“The goal of the strike has been fulfilled, all the designated facilities have been struck,” the ministry said without providing specifics.

The claims appeared to contradict Ukraine’s assertion that it intercepted all 17 cruise missiles launched by Russia and 18 of 24 Shahed drones in the southern regions of Mykolaiv and Odesa early Monday. There was no way to verify the conflicting claims.

Russians attacked residential areas in eight cities and villages in the Donetsk region, including Avdiivka and Kurdiumivka, killing one and wounding four, it said. Five artillery attacks in Kherson killed one person and wounded another. In the nearby town of Beryslav, Russians dropped explosives from a drone near the local bus station, injuring four people, the presidential office said.

Oleh Kiper, regional governor of Odesa, said a recreational facility in the town of Vylkovo was damaged in the attack but no casualties were immediately reported. Vylkovo, often referred to as the “Ukrainian Venice” because of its numerous canals, is located in the Danube delta on the border with Romania.

Romania has recently reported several findings of fragments from drones similar to those used by Russia in attacks on Ukraine’s ports on the other side of the Danube.

Neighboring Bulgaria on Monday said a specialist navy team carried out a “controlled explosion” of a mortar shell found attached to a drone in the Black Sea coastal area of Tyulenovo.

Bulgaria’s Defense Minister Todor Tagarev said it wasn’t clear when or how the drone ended up there, but said it most likely was carried by the sea to the coastal town situated about 30 kilometers (18.5 miles) south of the Romanian border.

“I have not been informed that our air defense system has detected such an object, but they are difficult to locate,” Tagarev said. “Such incidents happen weekly, the Bulgarian army has teams to locate and destroy unexploded ordnance.”

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Associated Press writers Yuras Karmanau in Tallinn, Estonia; Stephen McGrath in Manavgat, Turkey, and Brian Melley in London contributed.

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