Blast kills 3 Russian officers in occupied town - Ukrainian intelligence

FILE PHOTO: A view shows Russian flags in Melitopol

By Maria Starkova and Ronald Popeski

LVIV, Ukraine (Reuters) - At least three Russian officers were killed in the Moscow-controlled Ukrainian city of Melitopol in a blast Ukraine's intelligence said on Sunday was an "act of revenge" by local resistance groups.

The blast occurred during a meeting on Saturday of Russian officers in Melitopol, a town in southwestern Ukraine that has become a hub of Russian forces after they captured it in early days of the war.

"This act of revenge, carried out by representatives of the local resistance movement, took place in the (post) offices seized by the Russians," the Ukrainian Defence Ministry's intelligence department said on the Telegram messaging app.

Reuters could not independently verify the Ukrainian intelligence claim. Russia's defence ministry did not immediately responded to Reuters' request to comment.

The Ukraine intelligence statement said the Saturday meeting was attended by Russian National Guard and FSB intelligence service officers.

"As a result of the explosion at least three National Guard officers were killed at the headquarters," the statement said. "Information of other enemy losses is being clarified."

Both Russia and Ukraine have often underestimated their military casualties in the 20-month-long war, while exaggerated the losses they claim to have inflicted upon each other.

Ukraine has carried out a number of attacks on Melitopol, a town in the Zaporizhzhia region which had a pre-war population of about 150,000 which has become key to Moscow's defence of the lands it now controls in Ukraine's south.

"The enemy does not learn anything and continues to organise its headquarters there," Ivan Fedorov, the exiled mayor of Melitopol, told Ukrainian public television.

Ukraine, which launched a slow and gruelling counteroffensive in the south and east in early June has retaken only a handful of small villages along the front. Kyiv said retaking Melitopol would open a route to the Crimean Peninsula for Ukrainian forces.

Ukrainian forces staged a missile attack on the Black Sea Fleet headquarters in Russian-annexed Crimea in September. Ukrainian media said an attack last week on the occupied town of Skadovsk in Kherson region also targeted Russian officers.

(Writing by Ron Popeski and Lidia Kelly; editing by Grant McCool and Lincoln Feast.)