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Sergii, 59, picks up his damaged bicycle in front of cars destroyed after a Russian military attack in Kharkiv, Ukraine, July 21 2022. Pictue: NACHO DOCE/REUTERS
Sergii, 59, picks up his damaged bicycle in front of cars destroyed after a Russian military attack in Kharkiv, Ukraine, July 21 2022. Pictue: NACHO DOCE/REUTERS

Russia reopened its biggest gas pipeline to Germany at less than half normal capacity on Thursday after a maintenance shutdown, raising worries of European energy shortages to come, while in Ukraine shells smashed into a market, killing three people.

The resumption of gas flows via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to Germany ended a nerve-jangling 10 days for Europe in which politicians expressed concern Russia might keep it shut altogether after closing it for repairs.

But with the flows still reduced, Germany’s economy minister Robert Habeck accused Russia of blackmailing Europe over energy. The Kremlin denied that and blamed Europe for causing disruption with sanctions which had complicated the pipeline’s maintenance.

Nearly five months since Russia invaded Ukraine, the prospect of a disruption of European energy supplies is one of the biggest global economic and political risks arising from the war. European countries fear they could face shortages next winter if Russia cuts back deliveries during warm months when they typically replenish storage tanks.

"(President Vladimir) Putin’s goal is to unsettle, drive up prices, divide society and to weaken support for Ukraine,” Habeck said. “We don’t bow to it but counteract this with concentrated and consistent action. We take precautions so that we can get through the winter.”

In Turkey, President Tayyip Erdogan’s office meanwhile said that Russia, Ukraine and Turkey would on Friday to sign a deal proposed by the UN to free up grain exports from Ukraine’s besieged Black Sea ports.

Russia and Ukraine are both major global wheat suppliers and the war has sent food prices soaring and stoked an international food crisis. The war has stalled Ukraine’s exports, leaving dozens of ships stranded and about 20-million tonnes of grain stuck in silos at Odesa port.

Moscow has denied worsening the food crisis, blaming instead a chilling effect from Western sanctions for slowing its own food exports and Ukraine for mining its Black Sea ports.

Inside Ukraine, Kyiv has accused the Russians of stepping up strikes on cities in recent weeks in a deliberate attempt to terrorise its population. Moscow denies deliberately attacking civilians and says all its targets are military.

In Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-biggest city, shells struck a crowded market. A woman sobbed over the body of her husband lying near a stall while a couple tried to comfort her. Other residents stood about the bloodstained marketplace looking stunned.

The regional prosecutor’s office said three people were killed and 23 wounded in shelling of two districts. The chief of Kharkiv national police, Volodymyr Tymoshko, said there were no military targets nearby.

The main front lines have been largely frozen since Russian forces seized the last two Ukrainian-held cities in eastern Luhansk province in battles in late June and early July.

But Russia is shelling neighbouring Donetsk province in what Ukraine says is preparation for a potential new advance there. Russia aims to fully capture all of Donetsk and Luhansk on behalf of its separatist proxies.

Donetsk regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said Russian missile strikes had destroyed two schools in the Ukrainian-held cities of Kramatorsk and Kostiantynivka and had also hit the city of Bakhmut but there was no information yet on casualties.

“Only now, now that my teeth are chattering from fear, did I decide to leave,” Lidia, a 64-year-old resident of the eastern town of Soledar, said as she boarded a train in the town of Pokrovsk late on Wednesday, fleeing fighting in Donetsk province.

“What should I wait for, for my head to be hit by shelling?”

Kateryna, who was travelling with her children, said she fled the town of Sievierodonetsk before it was captured by Russian forces.

“To abandon your house is the worst thing ever. I feel empty,” she said. “How are we going to keep on living?”

Russia said its forces had destroyed the headquarters of Ukraine’s SBU intelligence service in Kramatorsk and had shot down a Ukrainian SU-25 military plane nearby. It said it had also hit Ukrainian artillery positions and arms depots near Kostiantynivka.

Russia says it uses high precision weapons against military targets, but the war has flattened cities, particularly in Russian-speaking areas in the east and southeast of Ukraine.

Germany unveiled measures to reduce gas demand, including suspending minimum temperature requirements in apartment rental contracts, and dipping into Germany’s coal reserves.

Nord Stream 1 has traditionally carried more than a third of Russia’s gas exports to Europe.

The European Commission has proposed that member countries cut gas use by 15% to prepare for possible supply cuts, though some governments have resisted that plan.

Moscow says it sent troops to Ukraine on February 24 to root out nationalists and the Kyiv government and its allies call the invasion an unprovoked war of conquest.

Ukraine hopes Western weapons, especially longer-range missiles such as US. Himars which Kyiv has deployed in recent weeks, will allow it to retake Russian-occupied territory.

Vitaly Kim, governor of the southern Mykolaiv region, said the region had been hit with seven S-300 missiles. One person had been wounded, he said, and infrastructure damaged.

Several blasts were also heard in the Russian-controlled southern region of Kherson overnight and into Thursday, Russian news agency Tass reported.

Reuters could not independently verify the reports.

Russia's military is likely to start an operational pause of some kind in the coming weeks, giving Ukraine an opportunity to hit back, Richard Moore, chief of Britain's Secret Intelligence Service, told the Aspen Security Forum.

Update: July 21 2022
This story has been updated with additional information.



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