June 25, 2024


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Russian missiles slam apartments; refugees missing at border

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In this photo provided by the Ukrainian Emergency Service, rescuers work at the scene of a building damaged by shelling in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2022. (Ukrainian Emergency Service via AP Photo)

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian missiles hit apartment buildings in the southern Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia on Thursday, a local official said, killing three people and wounding at least 12 in a region that houses Europe’s biggest nuclear power plant and which Moscow has illegally annexed.

The two strikes, the first before dawn and another in the morning, damaged more than 40 buildings, authorities said. The attacks came hours after Ukraine’s president announced that his military had retaken three more villages in another of the four regions annexed by Russia, Moscow’s latest battlefield reversal.

The Zaporizhzhia regional governor, Oleksandr Starukh wrote on Telegram that many people were rescued from the multistory buildings, including a 3-year-old girl who was taken to a hospital. Photos provided by the Emergency Service of Ukraine showed rescuers scrambling through the wreckage of a building looking for survivors.

“Absolute meanness. Absolute evil,” Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskky said of the attacks, in a video speech to the inaugural summit of the European Political Community in Prague. “There have already been thousands of manifestations of such evil. Unfortunately, there may be thousands more.”

Zaporizhzhia is one of the regions of Ukraine that Russian President Vladimir Putin has claimed as Russian territory in violation of international laws. The region is home to a sprawling nuclear power plant that is under Russian occupation but the city of the same name remains under Ukrainian control.

The head of the U.N.’s atomic energy watchdog is expected to visit Kyiv this week to discuss the situation at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant after Putin signed a decree Wednesday declaring that Russia was taking over the six-reactor facility.

Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry called the move a criminal act and said it considered Putin’s decree “null and void.”

Ukraine’s state nuclear operator, Energoatom, said it would continue to operate the plant, whose last operating reactor was shut down on Sept. 11 because of frequent outages of external power needed to run critical safety systems. Transmission lines to the plant were repeatedly shelled.

Rafael Grossi, the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, plans to discuss efforts to set up a secure protection zone around the nuclear power station, which has been damaged during the war in Ukraine and seen staff, including its director, abducted by Russian troops. After visiting Ukraine, Grossi plans to travel to Moscow for talks with Russian officials.

The precise borders of the areas in Ukraine that Moscow is claiming remain unclear. Putin has vowed to defend Russia’s territory — including the annexed Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia regions of Ukraine — with any means at his military’s disposal, including nuclear weapons.

The deputy head of the Ukraine president’s office, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, said 10 people were killed in the latest Russian attacks in the Dnipro, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions. It was not clear if that number included those killed in the morning strikes in Zaporizhzhia.

Ukrainian forces are seizing back villages in Kherson in humiliating battlefield defeats for Russian forces that have badly dented the image of a powerful Russian military and added to the tensions surrounding an ill-planned Russian troop mobilization.

Ukrainian forces have retaken 400 square kilometers (154 square miles) of territory, including 29 settlements, in the Kherson region since Oct. 1, Ukrainian officials reported Thursday.

Ukraine also was pressing a counteroffensive in the Donetsk region, which Moscow-backed separatists have partially controlled since 2014 but which remains contested despite Putin’s proclaimed annexation.

Outside the battlefront, several hundred Ukrainians trying to flee Russian-occupied areas disappeared Wednesday near the Russian-Estonian border, according to Ukrainian Commissioner for Human Rights Dmytro Lubinets. Referring to a report by the Estonian Ministry of Internal Affairs, he wrote on Facebook that Russian forces took the Ukrainians on trucks to an unknown destination.

The U.S. government, meanwhile, sent its international development chief to Kyiv on Thursday, the highest-ranking American official to visit Ukraine since Russia illegally annexed the four regions. The head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Samantha Power, was meeting with government officials and residents. She said the U.S. 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 U.S. President Joe Biden signed last week promises another $12.3 billion for Ukraine’s military and public services needs.

At the meeting in Prague, leaders from more than 40 European countries — but not Russia or its wartime ally Belarus — met Thursday to launch a “political community” aimed at boosting security and prosperity.

“Europe stands in solidarity against the Russian invasion in Ukraine,” Icelandic Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir told reporters at Prague Castle, a day after the Kremlin held the door open for further land grabs in Ukraine.

The European Union on Thursday froze the assets of an additional 37 people and entities tied to Russia’s war in Ukraine, bringing the total of EU blacklist targets to 1,351. The newly sanctioned people include officials involved in last week’s illegal Russian annexations and sham referendums. The latest sanctions also widen trade bans against Russia and prepare for a price cap on Russian oil.

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