KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — A missile strike seriously damaged a key energy facility in Ukraine’s capital region, the country’s grid operator said Saturday as the Russian military strove to cut power in far-flung populated areas while also defending against Ukrainian counterattacks in occupied regions.
Kyiv region Gov. Oleksiy Kuleba said the strike on the unidentified facility did not kill or wound anyone. Electricity transmission company Ukrenergo said repair crews were working to restore electricity service but warned residents about further possible outages.
After a truck bomb explosion a week ago damaged the bridge that links Russia to the annexed Crimean Peninsula, the Kremlin launched what is believed to be its largest coordinated missile attacks in Ukraine since the initial invasion of the country in late February
This week’s wide-ranging retaliatory attacks, which included the use of self-destructing explosive drones from Iran, killed dozens of people. The strikes hit residential buildings as well as civil infrastructure such as power stations in Kyiv, Lviv in western Ukraine, and other cities that had seen comparatively few strikes in recent months.
Kyrylo Tymoshenko, the deputy head of the Ukrainian president’s office, on Saturday urged Kyiv area residents and people in three neighboring regions to reduce their energy consumption during evening hours of peak demand.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday that Moscow did not see a need for additional massive strikes but his military would continue selective ones. He said that, of 29 targets the Russian military planned to knock out in this week’s attacks, seven weren’t damaged and would be taken out gradually.
The Institute for the Study of War, a think tank based in Washington, interpreted Putin’s remarks as intended to counter criticism from pro-war Russian bloggers who “largely praised the resumption of strikes against Ukrainian cities but warned that a short campaign would be ineffective.”
“Putin knew he would not be able to sustain high-intensity missiles strikes for a long time due to a dwindling arsenal of high-precision missiles,” the think tank said.
Russian diplomat Konstantin Vorontsov said at Friday’s meeting of a United Nations General Assembly committee dealing with arms control that Russia would provide its ally Belarus with Iskander-M short-range missiles that could carry a nuclear or a conventional warhead, and modernize some of Belarus’ Su-25 ground attack jets for carrying nuclear weapons.
Vorontsov explained the move by citing Moscow’s concern about the possibility of the deployment of U.S. nuclear weapons in Poland near the borders of Belarus and Russia.
He emphasized that in compliance with the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, Russia had no intention for now of fitting nuclear warheads to Belarusian weapons systems or transferring nuclear warheads to the territory of Belarus.
Regions of southern Ukraine that Putin illegally designated as Russian territory last month remained a focus of fighting Saturday. Ukrainian forces pressed on with a campaign to recapture the mostly Russian-occupied Kherson region,
Kirill Stremousov, a deputy head of the administration Moscow installed in the region, reminded residents they could evacuate to Crimea and cities in southwestern Russia as Ukrainian forces try to advance toward the regional capital.
After the region’s worried, Kremlin-backed leaders asked civilians Thursday to evacuate to ensure their safety and to give Russian troops more maneuverability, Moscow offered free accommodations to residents who agreed to leave.
Ukrainian troops attempted to advance south along the banks of the Dnieper River but did not gain any ground, according to Stremousov.
“The defense lines worked, and the situation has remained under the full control of the Russian army,” he wrote on his messaging app channel.
Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, the Russian Defense Ministry’s spokesman, said the military destroyed five crossings on the Inhulets River, another route Ukraine’s fighters could take to progress toward the Kherson region.
Konashenkov claimed Russian troops also blocked Ukrainian attempts to make inroads in breaching Russian defenses near Lyman, a city in the annexed Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine that the Ukrainians retook two weeks ago in a significant defeat for the Kremlin.
In the Zaporizhzhia region that borders Kherson, Gov. Oleksandr Starukh said the Russian military carried out strikes with Iranian-made kamikaze drones and S-300 missiles. Some experts said the Russian military’s use of the long-range missiles may reflect shortages of dedicated precision weapons for hitting ground targets.
To the north and east of Kherson, Russian shelling killed two civilians in the Dnipropetrovsk region, Gov. Valentyn Resnichenko said. He said the shelling of the city of Nikopol, which is located across the Dnieper from the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, damaged a dozen residential buildings, several stores and a transportation facility.
Fighting near the nuclear plant, Europe’s largest, has been an ongoing concern during the nearly eight-month war. The power station temporarily lost its last remaining outside electricity source twice in the past week, fueling fears the reactors could eventually overheat and cause a catastrophic radiation leak.
International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Grossi reported that such fears were somewhat eased late Friday because Ukrainian engineers had managed after several weeks to restore backup power lines that can serve as a “buffer” in case of further war-related outages.
“Working in very challenging conditions, operating staff at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant are doing everything they can to bolster its fragile offsite power situation,” Grossi said. “Restoring the backup power connection is a positive step in this regard, even though the overall nuclear safety and security situation remains precarious.”
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