ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine — At least 11 Russian soldiers were killed on Saturday in a shooting incident that underscored the challenges of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s hasty mobilization just as Ukrainian forces launched an offensive to reclaim areas in the south of the country illegally held. had been annexed by Moscow.
The Russian Defense Ministry said two men opened fire on volunteer soldiers during a target practice in western Russia, killing 11 and wounding 15 others before being killed themselves. The ministry called it a terror attack.
Russia has lost ground in the nearly seven weeks since Ukrainian forces launched their southern counter-offensive. This week, the Kremlin launched what is believed to be its largest coordinated air and missile strikes on Ukraine’s key infrastructure since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24.
In the wake of those attacks, a rocket attack on Saturday severely damaged a key energy supply in Ukraine’s capital, the country’s grid operator said. After mounting setbacks, the Russian military has worked to cut off power and water in remote populated areas while repelling Ukrainian counter-attacks in occupied areas.
In the Zaporizhzhya region, Governor Oleksandr Starukh said the Russian military has carried out attacks with suicide drones from Iran and long-range S-300 missiles. Some experts said the Russian military’s use of surface-to-air missiles could be a result of a shortage of special precision weapons for hitting ground targets.
Dmytro Pocishchuk, a hospital doctor in the capital of the Zaporizhzhya region who has treated dozens of injured during Russian attacks in recent weeks, said people were seeking safety outside or in the basement of his building when the well-known blast started at 5.15 am on Saturday.
“If Ukraine stops, these bombings and killings will continue. We must not give up on the Russian Federation,” Pocishchuk said hours later. He taped a small Ukrainian flag to the broken windshield of his badly damaged car.
Kiev region governor Oleksiy Kuleba said the rocket that hit a power plant on Saturday morning killed or injured no one. Citing security, Ukrainian officials have not identified the location, one of several infrastructure targets the Russian military attempted to destroy after an Oct. 8 bomb explosion damaged the bridge connecting Russia to the annexed Crimean peninsula.
Ukrainian electricity transmission company Ukrenergo said repair crews were working to restore electricity supplies, but warned residents of further potential outages. Kyrylo Tymoshenko, the deputy head of the Ukrainian president’s office, urged residents of the capital and three neighboring regions to conserve energy.
“Putin may hope that by increasing the misery of the Ukrainian people, President (Volodymyr) Zelenskyy will be more inclined to negotiate a settlement that would allow Russia to keep a stolen territory in the east or Crimea,” he said. Ian Williams, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a policy organization based in Washington. “A quick look at history shows that strategically bombing civilians is an ineffective way to achieve a political goal. ”
Dozens of people have been killed in this week’s large-scale retaliatory attacks, including the use of self-destructing explosive drones from Iran. The strikes hit residential buildings as well as infrastructure, such as power plants in Kiev, Lviv in western Ukraine and other cities where there had been relatively few strikes in recent months.
Putin said on Friday that Moscow saw no need for additional massive strikes, but that his army would continue selective strikes. He said that of the 29 targets the Russian military planned to take out this week, seven were undamaged and would be phased out.
The Institute for the Study of War, a think tank based in Washington, interpreted Putin’s comments 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. .”
In the southern Kherson region, one of the first areas of Ukraine to fall to Russia after the invasion and which Putin also illegally labeled Russian territory last month, Ukrainian forces pushed a counteroffensive on Saturday.
Kiev’s military has reported recaptured 75 towns and cities in the past month, but said momentum had waned, with fighting culminating in the kind of grueling back-and-forth that characterized Russia’s months-long offensive to attack the eastern Donbass. region of Ukraine.
On Saturday, Ukrainian troops tried to advance south along the banks of the Dnieper River toward the regional capital, also called Kherson, but were unsuccessful, according to Kirill Stremousov, a deputy head of the Moscow-installed government of Russia. the occupied region.
“The defense lines worked and the situation has remained under the full control of the Russian military,” he wrote on his messaging app channel.
Kremlin-backed local leaders on Thursday asked citizens to leave the region to ensure their safety and give Russian troops more maneuverability. Stremousov reminded them that they could evacuate to Crimea and cities in southwestern Russia, where Moscow offered free accommodation to residents who agreed to leave.
Major General Igor Konashenkov, the spokesman for Russia’s defense ministry, said the military has destroyed five crossings on the Inhulets River, another route Ukrainian fighters may take to advance into the Kherson region.
Konashenkov claimed Russian forces also blocked Ukrainian attempts to breach Russian defenses at Lyman, a town in the annexed Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine that the Ukrainians recaptured two weeks ago in a significant defeat to the Kremlin.
Amid the fighting, two men from an unnamed former Soviet nation shot at volunteer soldiers during target practice at a firing range in the Belgorod region bordering Ukraine and were killed by backfire, Russia’s defense ministry said.
The shooting comes amid a mobilization ordered by Putin to bolster Russian forces in Ukraine — a rash and poorly executed move that sparked protests and forced hundreds of thousands to flee Russia. Some of the mobilized reservists were sent to the front lines without proper training and equipment, activists and media reports said.
Putin said on Friday that more than 220,000 reservists had already been called up as part of an effort to recruit 300,000.
Two civilians were killed in the north and east of Kherson by Russian shelling in the Dnipropetrovsk region, Governor Valentyn Resnichenko said. He said the shelling of the town of Nikopol, located across the Dnieper from the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, damaged a dozen residential buildings, several shops and a transportation facility.
Fighting near the nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe, has been an ongoing concern during the nearly eight-month war. The power station temporarily lost its last remaining external source of electricity twice in the past week, fueling fears that the reactors could eventually overheat and cause a catastrophic radiation leak.
International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Rafael Grossi reported that such fears had eased somewhat by the end of Friday, as Ukrainian engineers had managed to restore backup power lines to serve as a “buffer” in the event of a breakdown after several weeks. further war-related outages.
“The operational staff of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant are working under very challenging conditions and are doing everything they can to strengthen the fragile external electricity situation,” Grossi said. “Restoring the backup power connection is a positive step in this regard, even if the overall nuclear safety and security situation remains precarious.”
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