Ukraine denies launching airstrike on Russian territory after explosion at oil depot

Ukraine forces appear to shoot down a Russian military helicopter

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Russia has accused Ukraine of carrying out an airstrike against a fuel depot in the Russian city of Belgorod on Friday, but a top Kyiv security official denied responsibility. Ukraine has reportedly said it will not “confirm or deny” it carried out the airstrike.

Security council secretary Oleksiy Danilov said: “For some reason they say that we did it, but according to our information this does not correspond to reality.

“Ukraine is currently conducting a defensive operation against Russian aggression on the territory of Ukraine, and this does not mean that Ukraine is responsible for every catastrophe on Russia’s territory.”

The Kremlin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “The incident certainly cannot be perceived as creating comfortable conditions for ongoing negotiations.”

Russia’s defence ministry said two Ukrainian helicopters struck the facility in Belgorod, some 35 km (22 miles) from the border with Ukraine, after entering Russia at extremely low altitude at around 5 am Moscow time (0200 GMT).

The resulting blaze forced the evacuation of some people but late in the day Belgorod mayor Anton Ivanov said fire services were extinguishing the last remnants.

He said in an online post: “There is no threat to human life and health. All residents can return to their homes.”

The development comes at a time when a team sent to help evacuate civilians from the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol has been forced to turn around after conditions made it “impossible to proceed”.

According to the mayor, around 5,000 people have been killed in the besieged city Mariupol – and 170,000 are still trapped and struggling without food, water, or electricity.

This comes as the International Committee of the Red Cross were forced to scrap plans to deliver aid to the southern port city of Mariupol today, as it said this afternoon that its “effort has been and remains extremely complex”.

It will attempt the operation again on Saturday.

The Red Cross said earlier a team of three cars carrying nine staff members were en route, in the hope of leading a convoy of about 54 Ukrainian buses and a number of private vehicles out of the city.

The UK’s Ministry of Defence said between 1,200 and 2,000 Russian troops were being organised into three battalion tactical groups.

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They said: “It is highly unlikely that Russia planned to generate reinforcement in this manner, and it is indicative of the unexpected losses it has sustained during the invasion.”

The MoD also said Ukrainian forces had retaken the villages of Sloboda and Lukashivka to the south of Chernihiv, located along one of the main supply routes between the city and Kyiv.

It reported Ukraine had continued to make successful but limited counterattacks to the east and northeast of Kyiv.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned that Russia was instead moving towards a renewed push in the southeastern Donbas region.

He described the situation in the region – parts of which are controlled by Russian-backed separatists – as “extremely difficult”, adding that there are “battles ahead”.

He said: “We know that (Russian troops) are moving away from the areas where we are beating them to focus on others that are very important – on those where it can be difficult for us.”

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