Russian missiles knocked out the power supply to Europe’s largest nuclear plant during a barrage of strikes targeting cities across Ukraine on Thursday, while Ukrainian defenders repelled fierce assaults on the beleaguered town of Bakhmut.
The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which Russian forces captured a year ago, was left depending on back-up generators after Russian missiles damaged Ukrainian infrastructure that had been delivering electricity to the plant, Ukrainian state power company Energoatom said in a statement.
“The last link between the occupied Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) and the Ukrainian power system was cut off,” Energoatom said in a statement.
The fifth and sixth reactors have been shut down and electric power needed for the plant’s functioning is supplied by 18 diesel generators, which have enough fuel for 10 days, Energoatom added.
Mykhailo Podolyak, an aide to the Ukrainian president, said the Russian military had launched massive missile attacks at night, when people were sleeping.
“Explosions have been recorded in most regions – infrastructure facilities & residential areas have been hit. ZNPP is de-energized,” Podolyak said in a post on Twitter, adding that parts of Ukraine were without electricity and water.
The capital, Kyiv, the Black Sea port of Odesa and the second-largest city, Kharkiv, were all hit as missiles targeted a wide arc of targets, stretching from Zhytomyr, Vynnytsia and Rivne in the west to Dnipro and Poltava in central Ukraine, officials said.
There were no immediate reports of casualties.
Air raid sirens sounded over Kyiv for seven hours, and Ukrainian air defences shot down drones and all types of cruise missiles, though preliminary reports said a hypersonic missile struck its target.
“Unfortunately, a missile of the Kinzhal type hit an infrastructure object,” said Serhiy Popko, the head of Kyiv region’s military administration.
Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko reported explosions in the southwestern part of the capital. Posting on the Telegram messaging app, the mayor said 40% of consumers in Kyiv were without electricity.
The governor of Odesa region, Maksym Marchenko, said on Telegram that a mass missile attack had hit an energy facility in the port city, cutting power. Residential areas had also been hit.
Kharkiv region Governor Oleh Synehubov said the city and region had been hit by 15 strikes, with targets including infrastructure. Other strikes were reported in the central city of Dnipro and regions throughout the country.
On Thursday morning, Ukraine’s military said Russian forces were attacking the mining town of Bakhmut, and other eastern towns, including Kupyansk, Liman, Avdiivka and Shakhtarsk.
“Over the past day, our soldiers repulsed more than 110 attacks,” the Ukrainian military said.
Russia has had no significant battleground victory for months and set its sights on Bakhmut last August. The fighting there has been some of the bloodiest since the invasion of Ukraine in February last year, but so far the Russian military only claims to have taken the eastern half of the town.
“The enemy continued its attacks and has shown no sign of a letup in storming the city of Bakhmut,” the General Staff of the Ukrainian armed forces said on Facebook. “Our defenders repelled attacks on Bakhmut and on surrounding communities.”
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a video address late on Wednesday that the battle for Bakhmut and the surrounding Donbas region was “our first priority”.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Russian mercenary group Wagner, said his fighters had captured the eastern part of Bakhmut.
“Everything east of the Bakhmutka River is completely under the control of Wagner,” Prigozhin said in a post on Telegram.
The river bisects Bakhmut, on the edge of Ukraine’s Donetsk province that is already largely under Russian occupation. The town centre is on the west side of the river.
Prigozhin has issued premature success claims before. Reuters was unable to verify the situation on the ground.
Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said in a video commentary that in addition to the Zabakhmutka district on the eastern outskirts of Bakhmut, the Russians had captured Ilyinivka district and made gains around Svatovo on the north side, and also made gains near Avdiivka to the south.
Iryna Vereshchuk, a deputy Ukrainian premier, said fewer than 4,000 civilians – including 38 children – out of a pre-war population of some 70,000 remain in Bakhmut.
A Ukrainian military drone showed the scale of destruction in Bakhmut, filming apartment blocks on fire and smoke billowing from residential areas.
ARMS BUYING PUSH
Russia was throwing more troops into the battle, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said before a meeting of European Union defence ministers in Stockholm.
“They have suffered big losses, but at the same time we cannot rule out that Bakhmut may eventually fall in the coming days,” Stoltenberg said.
EU defence ministers agreed to speed up the supply of artillery rounds and buy more shells to help Ukraine’s military.
Ukraine is expected to launch a counteroffensive when the weather improves and it receives more Western military aid, including tanks.
Russia has said it has annexed nearly 20% of Ukraine’s territory and says taking Bakhmut would be a step towards seizing the whole of the industrial Donbas region on its border.
Western analysts say Bakhmut has little strategic value, although its capture would be a boost to Russian President Vladimir Putin and his military after a series of setbacks in what they call their “special military operation” to eliminate o threats to its security from Ukraine’s ties to the West.
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