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A series of large explosions rocked the town of Nova Kakhovka in the Kherson region of Ukraine on Monday night. The town, like much of Kherson, is under Russian occupation.
It's the second major explosion in four days in the town, the site of an important hydro-electric dam and a link in the water supply to Crimea through the North Crimea canal.
Video posted on social media showed loud explosions and a huge ball of fire lighting up the night sky.
Serhiy Khlan, a Ukrainian official who is a member of Kherson regional council, said on Facebook: "In Nova Kakhovka minus one Russian ammo depot. They brought, brought, stockpiled, stockpiled and now have fireworks at night."
Khlan, who is not in Kherson, warned residents of Nova Kakhovka not to venture outdoors.
"Please take care of yourself and do not come close to the place of the detonation," he said.
The Russian state news agency TASS made no reference to an ammunition dump exploding but late Wednesday reported: "The Armed Forces of Ukraine attacked the Kakhovka hydroelectric power station in the Kherson region, a source said."
But the deputy head of the Russian backed military-civilian administration in Kherson, Kirill Stremousov, said that Ukrainian missiles did not hit the hydroelectric power station.
TASS later said that warehouses holding potassium nitrate had exploded. Potassium nitrate is a highly combustible substance used as an ingredient in fertilizer and was the cause of the Beirut explosion two years ago.
CNN cannot confirm the cause of the explosions or what was destroyed. TASS reported: "There are victims, the market, hospital and houses were damaged," quoting the Russian-backed civil-military administration in Kherson.
Ukrainian forces have stepped up attacks using missiles and long range artillery against Russian command posts and munitions sites in the last week.
The United States has information indicating that Iran is preparing to supply Russia with drones — including weapons-capable drones — and begin training Russian forces on how to operate them as early as this late July, National security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters on Monday.
Sullivan told reporters at the White House press briefing as the war on Ukraine has continued, Russia has incurred “severe costs” on the battlefield, with efforts to establish territory in the east “coming at a cost to the sustainment of its own weapons.”
An example of these costs, Sullivan said, is that “information indicates that the Iranian government is preparing to provide Russia with up to several hundred (unmanned aerial vehicles), including weapons-capable UAVs on an expedited timeline.”
“Our information further indicates that Iran is preparing to train Russian forces to use these UAVs, with initial training session slated in as soon as early July. It’s unclear whether Iran has delivered any of these UAVs to Russia already. But this is just one example of how Russia is looking to countries like Iran for capabilities that … have been used before we got the ceasefire in place in Yemen to attack Saudi Arabia,” he continued.
A spokesperson at the White House National Security Council told CNN that the information Sullivan described to reporters was based on recently declassified intelligence.
French and German economic ministers fear an extension to reduced Russian gas supplies as the Nord Stream 1 pipeline shuts down from Monday for a 10-day maintenance period.
Whilst the maintenance work was scheduled in advance, German Economy Minister Robert Habeck said in a statement on Monday that Europe would “not be divided by Russia’s actions,” as the shutdown of the pipeline tests Europe’s resolve to wean itself off Russian fuel supplies.
On Sunday, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire warned that France must act quickly and efficiently to prepare for a “total cut off to Russian gas,” urging attendees at an economic conference in Aix-en-Provence, southern France, to “be creative” and to “stop taking two or three years to do what other nations do in six months.”
France should speed up its construction of a floating natural gas terminal off the Atlantic coast in the west and build more new nuclear reactors, he added.
Germany's Habeck told public radio station Deutschlandfunk on Saturday that it is “simply a situation we haven’t had before,” and that “anything can happen.”
“It could be that the gas flows again, even more than before. It could be that nothing will come at all. And we honestly always have to prepare for the worst, and work a little bit for the best," he said.
On June 23, Germany activated the second phase of its three-stage gas emergency program, taking it one step closer to rationing supplies to industries, as Europe's biggest economy is now officially running short of natural gas and is escalating a crisis plan to preserve supplies as Russia turns off the taps.
Russia is the second largest provider of natural gas for France, suppling 17% of France’s import in 2021, according to the French Ministry of Ecological Transition.
Unlike its European neighbor Germany, France relies predominantly on nuclear energy, which represents 75% of its energy output in 2020, the ministry added.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the situation in Ukraine and grain shipments over the phone Monday.
The Kremlin said that the two leaders exchanged views on “coordinating efforts to ensure the safety of navigation in the Black Sea and grain exports to world markets.”
According to the Turkish presidency readout, Erdogan noted that “it was time for the United Nations to take action for the plan regarding the formation of secure corridors via the Black Sea.”
The Kremlin readout added that the two leaders paid “particular attention” in “further intensifying economic cooperation” on trade and energy.
The Turkish presidency readout made no mention of strengthening economic cooperation between Turkey and Russia and said that Turkey stands ready “to provide all kinds of support for the revival of the negotiation process.”
The Turkish president also held a call with his Ukrainian counterpart Monday. Erdogan told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that Turkey wants peace in Ukraine and that it is actively working on a United Nations plan to export Ukrainian grain to world markets, according to a readout by the Turkish presidency.
“Held talks with 🇹🇷 President @RTErdogan. Thanked for condolences over new civilian victims of the Russian aggression. We appreciate 🇹🇷 support. Discussed the importance of unblocking 🇺🇦 ports and resuming grain exports,” Zelensky tweeted following the call.
According to Ukrainian officials, more than 20 million tonnes of grain remain stuck in Ukraine due to the Russian blockade of various Black Sea ports.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte met with Ukrainian President Zelensky in Kyiv Monday, reiterating his country is ready to support Ukraine “now and in the years to come.”
Rutte praised the Ukrainian people for their fight against Russia and said they “deserved persistent attention of the world.”
“This war may last longer than we all hoped or expected. But that does not mean we can sit back and passively watch how it unfolds. We have to stay focused and continue to support Ukraine every day politically, by frequently and openly stating our support, by keeping the pressure on Putin’s Russia, and by strengthening political cooperation with Ukraine bilaterally and multilaterally,” Rutte told reporters in Kyiv.
“Mountains of Ukrainian grain are waiting for transport across the globe. Many people depend on it for their daily meal and I was really struck by the fact that President Zelensky and his team are working very hard to find every route available to get the grain out,” he added.
President Zelensky thanked Rutte, and noted the Netherlands as “among the top ten partners” of Ukraine in terms of “the amount of defense support provided.”
Ukraine's campaign to attack Russian supply lines and ammunition storage sites far behind the front lines continued this weekend, with Ukrainian officials reporting another long-range strike against Russian military positions in the southern region of Kherson.
Serhiy Khlan, a member of Kherson's regional council, said Sunday there had been "a precise hit" at the military unit of the occupiers on Pestelia Street in Kherson city.
The unit was hit twice on Sunday morning, Khlan claimed.
Images and video geolocated to Kherson showed a thick column of grey smoke rising into the air Sunday morning.
"Eyewitnesses report the cries of Russians under the rubble. The occupiers shoot in the air when someone tries to get closer," Khlan said.
He told Ukrainian television: "Thanks to modern Western weapons, Russian air defenses cannot intercept artillery [fire]."
Khlan also spoke about the difficulty for civilians trying to leave the region.
"Regarding evacuation from Kherson region, there is no humanitarian corridor. People leave at their own risk through Vasylivka towards Zaporizhzhia; the queue of cars can last one to two weeks," Khlan said.
He claimed: "The occupiers demand money for departure or even take away personal belongings from our people. In case of leaving towards the Crimea, there are risks of being taken to the filtration camps."
There is anecdotal evidence that hundreds of Kherson residents have crossed into Crimea and then traveled through Russia or Turkey.
What happened? Sunday's attack follows a series of explosions near the airport in Kherson on Saturday, and at what appears to have been an ammunition storage site in the Donetsk region.
The official Russian news agency TASS has reported four explosions in the sky over Kherson city caused by what it said were Russian air defense systems.
TASS said its correspondent in Kherson reported smoke on Perekopskaya Street in the middle of the city.
"Leave Kherson": Earlier on Friday, Iryna Vereshchuk, Ukraine's deputy prime minister, called on residents to evacuate the Kherson region.
"I urge you to evacuate as soon as possible, by all means. Don't wait," Vereshchuk said.
"People must look for an opportunity to leave because our Armed Forces will de-occupy. There will be huge battles," she said.
She warned residents they could be used as human shields by the Russians and staying in the occupied districts of Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions is dangerous.
Alexander Khinshtein, a deputy in the Russian Federation's Duma (parliament), denied Ukraine's claims of a hit.
"Ukrainian sources happily replicate a fake about a missile attack on the base of the Russian guard in Kherson," he said on Telegram. "The missile hit a 4-storey building, where one of the support units of the Russian Guard used to be. A day before, it was relocated to another location."
Images geolocated by CNN show that the badly damaged building is in the middle of Kherson, but it's unclear whether it was occupied at the time it was struck.
Ukrainian military intelligence claimed Monday to have intercepted a call between Russian soldiers, in which one said that Ukrainian forces had "hit the most important command. They hit f****ng hard." The soldier said 12 had been killed in the strike.
CNN is unable to verify the authenticity of the call.
A Brazilian man and woman and a French man died last week fighting in Ukraine for the International Legion, according to spokesperson Damien Magrou.
The Brazilians died in a fire caused by Russian shelling, Magrou said.
British soldier Andrew Hill, who was captured early May in Mykolaiv, remains a prisoner of war, Magrou said, admitting that he did not know the whereabouts or his welfare.
Hill will be placed on trial, Magrou said citing Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) officials. “I think everybody understands that the prospects for them to get a fair trial with an impartial court are non-existent.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree on Monday that would simplify the process of obtaining Russian citizenship for all residents of Ukraine.
Previous versions of the decree applied to residents in the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) and Luhansk People's Republic (LPR), as well as the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions of Ukraine.
The decree establishes that "citizens of Ukraine, Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) or Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) and people without citizenship permanently living in DPR, LPR or Ukraine […] are entitled to appeal for admission to citizenship of the Russian Federation via simplified procedure in accordance with the […] law ‘On citizenship of the Russian Federation'," the decree says.
What the simplified process allows: Individuals can apply for Russian citizenship without fulfilling several requirements, including living in Russia for five years, having a source of income and undergoing a Russian language examination.
The decree also says that "military service, service in national security or law enforcement agencies of Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republic cannot be considered a reason for denying Russian citizenship."
Simplified Russian citizenship applications were initially introduced by decree in 2019 for DPR and LPR residents. In May of this year, the decree was expanded to the regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia. And on Monday, the decree was expanded to all residents of Ukraine who wish to obtain Russian citizenship.