A man stands by a barricade made with destroyed police cars in Lysychansk on June 21, 2022, as Ukraine says Russian shelling has caused "catastrophic destruction" in the eastern industrial city, which lies just across a river from Severodonetsk where Russian and Ukrainian troops have been locked in battle for weeks. Image Credit: AFP

Moscow: Two drones flying from the direction of Ukraine hit a major Russian oil refinery near the border on Wednesday, the plant said, sending a ball of flame and black smoke billowing into the sky and prompting the plant to suspend production.

Russian regions bordering Ukraine have reported numerous attacks and shelling after Moscow sent its troops into its former Soviet neighbour on February 24 for what it calls a “special military operation”.

The Novoshakhtinsk oil refinery in Russia’s Rostov region said the first drone struck at 8.40am (0540 GMT) hitting a crude distillation unit, triggering a blast and ball of fire.

The second strike at 0623 GMT was aimed at crude oil reservoirs at the refinery, the largest supplier of oil products in southern Russia, but caused no fire, the plant said. No one was injured.

“As a result of terrorist actions from the Western border of the Rostov region, two unmanned aerial vehicles struck at the technological facilities of Novoshakhtinsk,” the plant said.

“Staff have been evacuated and technological equipment has been stopped to assess the damage.” Rostov’s regional governor, Vasily Golubev, said the oil refinery suspended operations. He said fragments of two drones had been found at the refinery.

Russia’s energy ministry said the fire had not affected gasoline and diesel supplies to consumers in southern Russia.

EU sanctions that prompted Lithuania transit ban ‘unacceptable’

EU sanctions

The Kremlin, meanwhile, said that the EU sanctions that led Lithuania to block the transit of some goods from mainland Russia to the exclave of Kaliningrad were “absolutely unacceptable”, and that Moscow was working on retaliatory measures.

Lithuania has shut the route to steel and other ferrous metals, which it says it is required to do under EU sanctions that took effect on Saturday, imposed in response to Russia’s decision to send its armed forces into Ukraine.

Kaliningrad is connected to the rest of Russia by a rail link through Lithuania, a member of the EU and Nato.

“We are convinced that the illegal sanctions adopted by the European Union are absolutely unacceptable in this situation,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said in a call with reporters, adding that countermeasures were being prepared.

But Peskov and Russian officials have remained tight-lipped about the exact nature of Moscow’s response.

Russia intensifies attacks on key cities in eastern Ukraine, seizes territory

On ground, Russian forces captured territory along a frontline river in eastern Ukraine and intensified pressure on two key cities on Monday, after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy predicted Moscow would escalate attacks ahead of an EU summit expected to welcome Kyiv’s bid to join the bloc.

The governor of Ukraine’s Luhansk region, scene of the heaviest Russian onslaughts in recent weeks, said the situation was “extremely difficult” along the entire frontline there as of Monday evening.

“The Russian army has accumulated sufficient amount of reserves to begin a large-scale offensive,” the governor, Serhiy Gaidai, said on Ukrainian television.

He said Russian forces controlled most of the city of Sievierodonetsk, apart from the Azot chemical plant, where hundreds of civilians have been sheltering for weeks, and the road connecting Sievierodonetsk and its sister city Lysychansk to the city of Bakhmut was under constant shell fire.

“Lysychansk has been suffering from massive Russian shelling all day. It is impossible to establish the number of casualties as of yet,” Gaidai said, adding that the shelling has been perhaps the heaviest the city had yet experienced.

Even so, the Russians had yet to complete an encirclement of Ukrainian forces, who were inflicting “significant losses” on them,” he said.

Moscow’s separatist proxies claimed to have captured Toshkivka, a town on the mostly Ukrainian-held western bank of the Siverskyi Donets river, south of Sievierodonetsk, which has become the main battlefield city in recent weeks.