Kyiv, Ukraine (AFP) – A series of explosions rocked the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv in the early hours of Saturday morning, sending lit plumes of smoke into the sky causing a series of secondary explosions.
There were no immediate reports of injuries
The blasts came hours after Russia focused its attacks in its increasingly turbulent invasion of Ukraine on areas it had illegally annexed, while the death toll from previous missile strikes on apartment buildings in the southern city of Zaporizhia rose to 14.
Kharkiv Mayor Ihor Terekhov said in a Telegram that the early morning explosions were the result of missile strikes that hit one of the city’s medical institutions, a non-residential building and other locations.
In a rebuke to Russian President Vladimir Putin for his behavior in Europe’s worst armed conflict since World War II, the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. For human rights organizations in his country and Ukraine, and an activist imprisoned in Belarus, an ally of Russia.
The commission’s chair, Berit Reiss-Andersen, said the honor went to “three outstanding champions of human rights, democracy and peaceful coexistence”.
Putin claimed this week illegally Four regions of Ukraine as Russian territory, including the Zaporizhzhia region that houses Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, whose reactors were shut down last month.
The fighting near the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant alarmed the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Watch, which on Friday doubled the number of its inspectors monitoring the plant’s protection measures to four. Ukraine’s Environmental Protection Minister Ruslan Strelets said Friday that an accident there could release 10 times more lethal radiation than the world’s worst nuclear disaster, which occurred in Chernobyl, Ukraine 36 years ago.
“The situation with the occupation, bombing, and mining of the Chernobyl and Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plants by Russian forces is causing consequences that will have a global character,” Strelets told The Associated Press.
The United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, reported more trouble at the plant, saying Friday on Twitter that external power had again been cut off to one of its shutdown Zaporizhzhia reactors, necessitating the use of emergency backup diesel generators to power safety systems.
The city of Zaporizhzhia is located 53 kilometers (33 miles) from the nuclear plant where the crow flies and remains under Ukrainian control. To bolster Russia’s claim to the area, Russian forces bombed the city with S-300 missiles on Thursday, with more attacks on Friday.
Ukrainian authorities said the death toll from the strikes on apartment buildings rose to 14 on Friday, while 12 people wounded in the bombing were still in hospital.
Zaporizhzhya Governor Oleksandr Starukh said the missiles also hit the city during the night, injuring one person. He added that Russia also used Iranian-made Shahed-136 aircraft there for the first time and destroyed two infrastructure facilities.
With its military losing ground to a Ukrainian counterattack in the south and east, Russia has deployed Iranian-made disposable drones that are cheaper and less complex than missiles but still capable of destroying ground targets.
The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War said Russia’s use of explosive-packed drones was unlikely to affect the course of the war.
They have used many drones against civilian targets in the rear, hoping to produce non-linear effects through terrorism. Analysts at the think tank write that such efforts are unsuccessful.
In other areas annexed by Moscow, the Russian Defense Ministry reported on Friday that its forces repelled the Ukrainian advance near the city of Lyman and recaptured three villages elsewhere in the eastern Donetsk region. The ministry also claimed that Russian forces prevented Ukrainian forces from advancing in several villages in the southern Kherson region.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his nightly video address on Friday that his army this week alone recaptured 776 square kilometers (300 square miles) of land in the east and 29 settlements, including six in the Putin-annexed Luhansk region. In total, he said, Ukrainian forces had liberated 2,434 square kilometers (940 square miles) of land and 96 settlements since the beginning of their counterattack.
In Ukraine’s Dnipropetrovsk region, Russian forces bombed the city of Nikopol overnight, killing one person, injuring another and damaging buildings, natural gas pipelines and electrical systems, the governor said. Nikopol is located along the Dnieper River on the other side of the Russian-controlled territory near the nuclear power plant. The city has been repeatedly bombed for weeks.
The impact of the devastation and death inflicted on Russia from the areas where its forces have retreated became more visible on Friday. A report by the First Deputy Minister of Interior of Ukraine Yevhen Lenin revealed that 530 bodies of civilians have been found in the Kharkiv region in northeastern Ukraine since September 7.
Lenin said that among the residents killed during the Russian occupation were 257 men, 225 women and 19 children, while 29 people had not been identified. Most of the bodies were found in a mass grave that was previously excavated in the city of Izium.
According to Yenin, the bodies found bore traces of gunshots, explosions and torture. Some people had ropes around their necks, their hands tied behind their backs, gunshot wounds to their knees and broken ribs.
Serhiy Polvinov, regional police official, said authorities have identified 22 torture sites in parts of the Kharkiv region recently liberated by Ukrainian forces.
Donetsk Governor Pavlo Kirilenko reported in Telegram that in the recently restored Lyman, workers found 200 individual graves and mass graves with an unknown number of victims. In Svyatohersk, 24 kilometers (15 miles) from Lyman, 21 bodies of civilians were reburied.
Meanwhile, Russian military equipment and weapons are getting into the hands of the Ukrainians. The British Ministry of Defense said on Friday that Ukrainian forces have captured at least 440 tanks and about 650 armored vehicles since the Russian invasion began on February 24.
The British ministry said: “The failure of Russian crews to destroy proper equipment before withdrawing or surrender highlights their poor training and low levels of discipline in battle.” “With Russian formations under severe strain in several sectors and troop morale increasingly frustrated, Russia will likely continue to lose heavy weapons.”
Putin ordered a partial mobilization of the Russian army’s reservists last month to bolster troops on the front lines in Ukraine. However, errors caused the recall, and tens of thousands of men fled Russia, unprepared to fight Putin’s war.
This has left Russia in dire need of troop reinforcements. The Ukrainian military said, on Friday, that 500 ex-criminals were mobilized to reinforce the Russian ranks in the eastern Donetsk region, where Ukrainian forces recaptured territory. The military said law enforcement officers are commanding the new units.
Russia’s state news agency TASS reported on Friday that a court in the Russian city of Penza had rejected the first case against a Russian man called up for service but refused. Lawyers for the 32-year-old argued that the law under which he was charged applies only to draft dodgers, not those subject to partial mobilization.
In another sign of problems, reports emerged of poor training and poor supplies for the new Russian forces. At least two Russian cities – Saint Petersburg and Nizhny Novgorod – announced on Friday that they were canceling Russian New Year and Christmas celebrations and redirecting that money to buy supplies for Russian troops.
Under increasing pressure from his supporters as well as his critics, Putin continued to reshuffle the leadership of his army, replacing the commander of Russia’s Eastern Military District.
Associated Press journalists Hana Arherova in Kyiv and Vasilisa Stepanenko and Francisco Seko in Kharkiv contributed to this report.
Follow the AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine