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Fighting rages across front lines in Ukraine, first grain ship departs

Bloody battles, missile strikes, civilian casualties and violence are being reported in the battlefields and cities of eastern and southern Ukraine as fighting re-intensifies. Meanwhile, the first grain shipment since the war began left Ukraine under a U.N.-brokered deal.

(CN) — The war in Ukraine entered a new bloody phase in recent days with an uptick in reports of infantry battles, missile attacks and mass casualties and both sides claiming they had made limited advances.

In a positive development, the first cargo ship carrying grain since Russia launched its invasion left Ukraine on Monday under a deal brokered by the United Nations and Turkey.

The Razoni, a ship carrying the flag of Sierra Leone, left for Lebanon with 26,000 tons of corn. The deal opens the way for more vital shipments of grain and fertilizer from Ukraine and Russia to embark, easing fears of mass starvation around the world.

But the deal remains very fragile, as shown by the death of a Ukrainian “grain tycoon” reportedly killed along with his wife when a Russian missile struck their home in Mykolaiv on Saturday night. Mykolaiv is a city on the Black Sea under Ukrainian control but close to the front lines. The city has come under heavy bombardment in recent days.

The killing of Oleksiy Vadatursky, one of Ukraine's richest men who was credited with helping make Ukraine a major grain exporter, underscored the brutality of a war that is being fought over the control of territory and economic riches but also over cultural rights and historical grievances.

On Sunday, Europeans were reminded of the dangers that the conflict between the West and Russia could turn into an even bigger war in Europe after tensions flared in Kosovo, a small republic in the Balkans recognized by the United States and the European Union but not by Russia and Serbia, Slavic and Eastern Orthodox Christian countries with deep ties.

Throughout Sunday, Serbs in Kosovo erected roadblocks and there were reports of gunfire after the government in Pristina ordered Serbs in Kosovo to replace their Serbian documents, including license plates, with Kosovar ones.

NATO troops in Kosovo were put on high alert and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic accused Kosovo of preparing a military operation against Serbs.

By Monday, though, tensions in Kosovo calmed after the government in Pristina said it was postponing the ban on Serbian documents. Both Serbia and Kosovo are seeking to join the EU, but this process has proven complicated and divisive.

Kosovo broke away from Serbia in 1999 following a NATO bombing campaign against Serbia, which was accused of violently suppressing an Albanian insurgency in Kosovo, a province viewed by many Serbs as their cultural heartland. Both sides in the Kosovo war were accused of war crimes.

Events that led to the creation of a new Western-backed Kosovo republic at the expense of Serbia are often cited as among the roots for Russia's deep misgivings over NATO and the EU and Moscow has used the example of Kosovo to justify its war against Ukraine.

In Ukraine, fighting has intensified after a partial lull toward the end of July.

After days when Russian and pro-Russian Ukrainian forces reported few advances, there were indications that they were on the move again in Donetsk, an eastern region the Kremlin is determined to seize, and also mounting attacks in the region of Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city.

South of Kharkiv, Russian troops were reportedly trying to storm Ukrainian positions in and around Avdeevka, Soledar and Bakhmut, urban centers in the Donetsk region. There were no clear reports of major breakthroughs, though.

In light of Russian attacks on Donetsk, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Saturday issued an evacuation order for civilians there. About 200,000 people still remain in Donetsk’s Ukrainian-held east.

“The sooner it is done, the more people leave Donetsk region now, the fewer people the Russian army will have time to kill,” Zelenskyy said.

The Russian ministry of defense claimed on Monday that it destroyed two U.S.-supplied HIMARS rocket systems in Kharkiv and an U.S.-supplied anti-ship launcher. Russia also claimed that more than 250 Ukrainian soldiers were killed in recent days.

Meanwhile, Ukraine said its forces had made advances toward Kherson, a city on the Black Sea that fell under Russian control early in the invasion. Kyiv says it is determined to mount a counteroffensive and retake territories in southern Ukraine by the end of the year.

Ukraine, meanwhile, was accused of firing rockets that scattered hundreds of small anti-personnel mines across the city of Donetsk, the seat of the self-declared pro-Russian republic of Donetsk.

Videos showed sappers, tanks and civilians working to remove or trigger the hard-to-see explosives, which are designed to seriously wound people but not kill them. At least one man was reportedly injured by one of the explosives, according to Tass, a Russian state news agency.

Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.

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