KYIV, Ukraine (AFP) — Fresh Russian strikes hit cities across Ukraine on Thursday, the latest in a wave of attacks that have crippled the country’s energy infrastructure as winter sets in and temperatures drop.
Repeated barrages have been disrupting electricity and water supplies to millions of Ukrainians, but the Kremlin blamed civilians’ suffering on Kyiv’s refusal to negotiate, rather than on Russian missiles.
AFP journalists in several Ukraine cities said the fresh strikes had hit with snow falling for the first time this season and after officials in Kyiv warned of “difficult” days ahead with a cold spell approaching.
The salvos also came as Moscow and Kyiv confirmed the extension of an agreement allowing Ukraine to export grain through the Black Sea, which aims to help ease pressure on the global supply of food.
Ukraine has faced a series of strikes against its power grid following battlefield victories against Russia, the latest being Moscow’s retreat from the southern city of Kherson.
“Four missiles and five Shahed drones were shot down over Kyiv,” the Kyiv regional administration announced, referring to the Iranian-made suicide drones that Moscow has been deploying against Ukrainian targets in swarms.
As Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine continues, the head of the central region of Dnipropetrovsk Valentyn Reznichenko said strikes had hit the administrative center of Dnipro.
“An industrial enterprise has been hit. There is a big fire,” he said, later announcing that 23 people were injured, including a 15-year-old girl.
In the southern Odesa region, a Russian strike targeted infrastructure and the governor warned residents of the threat of a “massive” missile attack, urging them to seek shelter.
The eastern region of Kharkiv was also struck, governor Oleg Synegubov announced, adding that Russia hit “critical infrastructure” in strikes that injured at least three people.
Zelensky in response described Russia as a “terrorist state” and said Moscow “wants to bring Ukrainians only more pain and suffering.”
The Kremlin however said that ultimately Kyiv was to blame for the fallout from the blackouts.
“The unwillingness of the Ukrainian side to settle the problem, to start negotiations, its refusal to seek common ground — this is their consequence,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
The largest wave of Russian missiles on cities across Ukraine earlier this week cut power to millions of homes, but it was largely restored within hours.
Ukrainian energy company Ukrenergo however said Thursday that the “cold snap” had brought increased demand in regions where electricity was recently restored.
“This has further complicated the already difficult situation with the power system,” the company said.
Energy advisor to the Ukrainian government Oleksandr Kharchenko told local media that some 50 percent of Ukrainians were experiencing disruptions and that the west of the country was the worst hit.
“Unfortunately, the attacks are quite effective, and the losses are accumulating,” he was cited as saying.
‘Russia bears full responsibility’
Tensions spiked earlier this week after a missile landed in a Polish town on the border with Ukraine, and there was a flurry of blame over who was responsible for the blast that killed two.
Zelensky, after previously saying a Russian missile was to blame, seemed to soften his public comments on the incident that had raised worries of a dangerous escalation.
“I don’t know what happened. We don’t know for sure. The world does not know,” Zelensky said.
“But I am sure that it was a Russian missile, I am sure that we fired from air defense systems. But it is impossible to talk about something specific today — that it was the air defense of Ukraine,” he added.
Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba also appeared to roll back Kyiv’s determined position that it was a Russian missile that struck Poland following a call with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Separately, a monitoring group said Thursday that Russia’s use of newly-produced landmines in Ukraine poses the greatest challenge to the landmark Mine Ban Treaty struck 25 years ago.
The monitor said it had confirmed evidence that Russian troops had planted “victim-activated booby-traps and improvised explosive devices in Ukraine… prior to retreating and abandoning their positions.”