KYIV/KHARKIV, Ukraine, Sept 12 (Reuters) – Ukraine has accused Russian forces of attacking civilian infrastructure in retaliation for a rapid Ukrainian offensive over the weekend that forced Russia to abandon its main bastion in the Kharkiv region.
Ukrainian officials said the retaliatory attacks targeted waterworks and a thermal power plant in Kharkiv, causing widespread power outages.
“No military facilities, the goal is to deprive people of light and heat,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky wrote on Twitter late Sunday evening.
US Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink also condemned the strikes.
“Russia’s obvious response to Ukraine’s liberation of towns and villages in the east: sending missiles to destroy critical civilian infrastructure,” Brink wrote on Twitter.
Moscow denies that its forces deliberately target civilians.
Zelenskiy described Ukraine’s advance in the northeast as a potential breakthrough in the six-month war and said further territorial gains are possible in the winter if Kyiv gets more powerful weapons.
This is the worst defeat of the Moscow troops since they were repulsed from the outskirts of Kyiv in March. Thousands of Russian soldiers, abandoning ammunition and equipment, fled the city of Izyum, which they used as a logistics center.
Ukraine’s supreme commander, Gen. Valeriy Zaluzhny, said the armed forces had regained control of more than 3,000 square kilometers (1,158 square miles) since the beginning of this month.
Moscow’s near-total silence about the defeat — or any explanation for what happened in northeastern Ukraine — has drawn intense ire from some pro-war commentators and Russian nationalists on social media. On Sunday, some called on President Vladimir Putin to make immediate changes to ensure final victory in the war. read more
Zelenskiy said late on Sunday that the Russian attacks had resulted in complete blackouts in Kharkiv and Donetsk regions and partial blackouts in Zaporizhia, Dnipropetrovsk and Sumy regions.
“They cannot accept defeat on the battlefield,” wrote the governor of the Dnepropetrovsk region, Valentin Reznichenko, on Telegram.
Deputy Head of the President’s Office Kyrylo Tymoshenko posted on Telegram an image of a burning power grid, but power has been restored in some regions.
Kharkiv Mayor Igor Terekhov called the Sunday shelling “cynical revenge” for the successes of Ukrainian troops at the front, in particular in Kharkiv.
Ukraine’s accomplishments are politically important to Zelenskiy as he seeks to keep Europe united around Ukraine – by supplying arms and money – even as an energy crisis looms this winter due to cuts in Russian gas supplies to European consumers.
Zelensky said Ukrainian forces would continue their offensive.
“We will not stand still,” he said in an interview with CNN, recorded Friday in Kyiv. “We will slowly, gradually move forward.”
“SNOWBALL ROLLING OFF THE HILL”
Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said Ukraine needed to secure the reclaimed territory from a possible Russian counterattack on sprawling Ukrainian supply lines. He told the Financial Times that Ukrainian forces could be surrounded by fresh Russian troops if they advance too far.
But he said the offensive went much better than expected, calling it “a snowball rolling down the hill.”
“This is a sign that Russia can be defeated,” he said.
Oleg Zhdanov, a Kyiv-based military analyst, said the gains could lead to a further push into the Luhansk region, which Russia claimed to capture in early July.
“If you look at the map, it is logical to assume that the offensive will develop in the direction of Svatovo-Starobelsk, Severodonetsk-Lysichansk,” he said.
The head of the Russian administration in Kharkiv called on residents of the region to evacuate the region and flee to Russia, TASS reported on Saturday. Witnesses described traffic jams as people left Russian-controlled territory.
Russian news agencies quoted the head of the Luhansk People’s Republic, Leonid Pasechnik, as saying that Ukrainian forces were trying to infiltrate the region, which has been held by Russian forces since July.
“Ukrainian sabotage and reconnaissance groups did not stop trying to penetrate the territory of the republic with the aim of provoking and intimidating our citizens,” he said, adding that “there was no withdrawal from the positions held by the republic.”
Washington appears to have taken a cautious public stance, with the Pentagon citing Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s statement on Thursday about Kyiv’s “encouraging” successes on the battlefield. read more
The UK Ministry of Defense said on Sunday that fighting continues around Izyum and the town of Kupyansk, the only railway junction providing Russia’s front line in northeast Ukraine, which was recaptured by Ukrainian forces.
NUCLEAR REACTOR IS CLOSED
As the war entered its 200th day, Ukraine on Sunday shut down the last operating reactor at Europe’s largest nuclear power plant to guard against disaster as fighting rages nearby.
Russia and Ukraine accuse each other of shelling the Russian-controlled Zaporozhye plant, which could lead to the release of radiation.
The International Atomic Energy Agency said a backup power line to the plant has been restored, providing the off-site electricity needed for the shutdown, protecting against the risk of a meltdown.
French President Emmanuel Macron told Putin in a telephone conversation on Sunday that the occupation of the plant by Russian troops is the reason its security is at risk. According to the Kremlin, Putin blamed Ukrainian forces.
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Reporting by Reuters journalists; Writing by Phil Stewart and James Olyphant; Editing by Daniel Wallis
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