kyiv, Ukraine (HPD) — Russian missiles hit apartment buildings Thursday in the southern Ukrainian city of Zaporizhia, leaving seven dead and five missing in a region illegally annexed by Moscow, according to a local official.
Two attacks damaged more than 40 buildings hours after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced that his armed forces had retaken control of three more communities in another of the four Russian-annexed regions, Moscow’s latest setback in the field. of battle.
Zaporizhia Regional Governor Oleksandr Starukh, who provided the death toll, said more than 20 people had been rescued from the multi-story apartment buildings. Rescuers who had previously taken a 3-year-old girl to a hospital were still sifting through the debris early Friday. Starukh wrote on Telegram that Russian forces used S-300 missiles in the attacks.
It has been reported that Russia has converted the S-300 from its original use as a long-range anti-aircraft weapon into a ground-attack missile due to a shortage of other more suitable weapons.
“Absolute vileness. Absolute evil,” Zelenskky said of the attacks, in a video address at the opening of the European Political Community summit in Prague. “There have already been thousands of manifestations of that evil. Unfortunately, there could be thousands more.”
Zaporizhia is one of four regions of Ukraine that Russian President Vladimir Putin has claimed as Russian territory in violation of international law. The region is home to a large Russian-occupied nuclear power plant; the city of the same name remains under Ukrainian control.
The director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Grossi, announced Thursday after meeting with Zelenskyy in kyiv that the IAEA will increase the number of inspectors at the Zaporizhia plant from two to four.
Grossi spoke with Ukrainian officials — and will meet Russian officials later in Moscow — about attempts to establish a buffer zone around the nuclear power plant. Grossi said mines have apparently been placed around the perimeter of the plant, which has been damaged during the war and is feared a possible radioactive disaster. Zelenskyy said that Russia has stationed up to 500 soldiers at the plant.
Putin signed a decree on Wednesday declaring that Moscow would take control of the six-reactor facility, a move Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry called a “null and void” criminal act.
Ukrainian state nuclear operator Energoatom said it would continue to operate the plant, whose last working reactor was shut down on September 11 due to frequent cuts in external power needed to run crucial safety systems. The transmission lines to the plant have been shelled repeatedly, and on Thursday Grossi reported artillery attacks in an industrial area near the access road to the nuclear plant.
Away from the front lines, Russian authorities on Wednesday detained several hundred Ukrainians trying to flee Kremlin-occupied areas near the Russia-Estonia border, according to Ukrainian Human Rights Commissioner Dmytro Lubinets. Citing the Estonian Interior Ministry, he wrote on Facebook that Russian forces took the Ukrainians away in trucks to an unknown destination.
Most of the detained Ukrainians had fled through Russia and Crimea and were seeking to enter the European Union, of which Estonia is a member, or find a way to return home, Lubinets wrote.
Russia has forced thousands of Ukrainians into “filtration camps” to determine who they are loyal to. Zelenskyy said Thursday that more than 1.6 million Ukrainians have been deported to Russia.
The exact borders of the areas of Ukraine claimed by Moscow remain unclear. Putin has vowed to defend Russia’s territory — including the annexed Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhia regions of Ukraine — with any means at the disposal of his military, including nuclear weapons.
Ukrainian forces are regaining control of towns in Kherson in humiliating battlefield defeats for Russian troops, whose image has been damaged. Ukrainian officials said Thursday that they have retaken 400 square kilometers (154 square miles) of territory, including 29 settlements, in the Kherson region since Oct. 1.
Ukraine was also pressing a counteroffensive in the Donetsk region, which Moscow-backed separatists have partially controlled since 2014 but remains in dispute despite Putin’s claim to annex it.
In the hard-hit Chasiv Yar, a city in the Donetsk region 12 kilometers (7 miles) from the heavy fighting, the impact of the war on the people was evident in a queue of retirees waiting to collect their pension checks at a post office.
“We are hopeful for the victory of the Ukrainian army,” Vera Ivanovna, 81, a retired English and German teacher, said as the gunshots rang out. “We live in independent Ukraine the same way you live in the United States. We also want to live as you are living.”
There have been at least two Russian attacks on Chasiv Yar in recent days, with one person reportedly buried under the rubble of a bedroom. More than 40 people were killed in July when Russian rockets hit a residential building.
Russia said it had taken control of the town of Zaitsevo in the Donetsk region. The governor of the neighboring Luhansk region said Ukrainian forces had recaptured the town of Hrekivka. Neither of the two battlefield reports could be independently confirmed.
For its part, Washington sent to kyiv on Thursday Samantha Power, director of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID, for its acronym in English), the highest-ranking US official to visit Ukraine since Russia annexed it. illegally the four regions. Power met with government officials and residents, saying the United States would provide an additional $55 million to repair heating pipes and other equipment.
USAID said the United States had delivered $9.89 billion in aid to Ukraine since February. A spending bill that US President Joe Biden signed last week promises another $12.3 billion for Ukraine’s military and utility needs.
“This war will be won on the battlefield, but it is also being won in Ukraine’s continued attempts to strengthen its democracy and economy,” Power told reporters at the kyiv train station.
He noted that Ukraine’s success as a democratic country with a modern economy that fights corruption infuriates Putin.
The European Union on Thursday froze the assets of a further 37 individuals and entities linked to the war in Ukraine, bringing the total number of targets on the EU blacklist to 1,351. Among the newly sanctioned are officials implicated in Russia’s illegal annexations and its fake referendums last week. The latest sanctions also expand trade bans against the Kremlin and prepare a price cap for Russian oil.
At United Nations headquarters in New York, the Russian government has called for a secret vote next week on a Western-backed resolution that would condemn Russia’s annexation of the four Ukrainian regions and demand that Moscow move forward. behind. The Kremlin apparently hopes to get more support from the 193-nation General Assembly if their votes are not made public.
Russia vetoed on September 30 a legally binding Security Council resolution to condemn the annexation referendums of the four Ukrainian regions as illegal. General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding.
Associated Press writers Hanna Arhirova in Ukraine and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.