Russia launched more missile strikes on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure on Thursday and its forces pressed attacks in the eastern Donetsk region, reinforced by troops pulled from Kherson city in the south which Kyiv recaptured last week.
NATO and Poland concluded that a missile that crashed in Poland on Tuesday, killing two people, was probably a stray fired by Ukraine’s air defences. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy contested this view in a rare public disagreement with his Western allies.
As the winter’s first snow fell in Kyiv, authorities said they were working hard to restore power nationwide after Russia earlier this week unleashed what Ukraine said was the most intense bombardment of civilian infrastructure of the nine-month war.
Explosions were heard again on Thursday morning in several parts of Ukraine, including the southern port of Odesa, the capital Kyiv and the central city of Dnipro, and civilians were urged to take shelter as air raid warnings were issued.
Local officials said two people were killed in a missile attack overnight on the southeastern region of Zaporhizhzhia, three were wounded in an attack on the northeastern city of Kharkiv and three were hurt in Odesa.
“Missiles are flying over Kyiv right now,” Interfax Ukraine news agency quoted Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal as saying at a conference. “Now they are bombing our gas production, they are bombing our enterprises in Dnipro and Yuzhmash (missile factory).”
On a brighter note, Ukraine’s infrastructure ministry said agreement had been reached on extending by 120 days a deal that allows for the export of food and fertilisers from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports via a protected sea transit corridor.
The Black Sea grain initiative, first agreed in July, has helped to alleviate global food shortages and U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres welcomed Thursday’s announcement.
NATO ambassadors held emergency talks on Wednesday to respond to Tuesday’s blast at a grain facility in Poland, near the Ukrainian border, the war’s first deadly extension into the territory of the Western alliance.
“From the information that we and our allies have, it was an S-300 rocket made in the Soviet Union, an old rocket and there is no evidence that it was launched by the Russian side,” Polish President Andrzej Duda said, however.
“It is highly probable that it was fired by Ukrainian anti-aircraft defence.”
Russia and Ukraine both use the Soviet-era missile.
Nevertheless, NATO’s chief said Russia, not Ukraine, was still to blame for starting the war with its February invasion and launching scores of missiles on Tuesday that triggered Ukrainian defences.
“This is not Ukraine’s fault. Russia bears ultimate responsibility as it continues its illegal war against Ukraine,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels.
Stoltenberg also said the missile was likely to have originated from Ukrainian air defence.
Ukraine’s Zelenskiy demurred, saying, “I have no doubt that it was not our missile”, Ukrainian media said on Wednesday. He said he based his conclusion on reports from Ukraine’s military which he “cannot but trust”.
U.S. President Joe Biden disputed Zelenskiy’s assertion that the missile was not Ukrainian in comments to reporters at the White House on Thursday following his return from a trip to Asia. “That’s not the evidence,” Biden said.
Moscow had denied responsibility, and Russia’s Foreign Ministry said the “mayhem” around accusations of Russian involvement in the missile were “part of a systematic anti-Russian campaign by the West”.
Following the latest wave of Russian missile attacks, Zelenskiy said late on Wednesday that technicians were working nonstop to restore electricity.
“We are talking about millions of customers. We are doing everything we can to bring back power. Both generation and supply,” he said.
Fighting was heavy in the eastern Donetsk region, including the towns of Pavlivka, Vuhledar, Maryianka and Bakhmut, Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said in an online video.
Ukrainian forces repelled attacks on the Donetsk towns of Avdiivka and Bilohorivka, Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhadnov said in comments posted on YouTube.
Moscow’s forces retreated from the southern city of Kherson last week after a Ukrainian counteroffensive. It was the only regional capital Russia had captured since its Feb. 24 invasion, and the pullback was the third major Russian retreat of the war.
Investigators in the Kherson region uncovered 63 bodies bearing signs of torture after Russian forces left the area, Ukraine’s interior minister was quoted as saying on Thursday.
Interfax Ukraine news agency quoted the minister, Denys Monastyrsky, as telling national television: “The search has only just started, so many more dungeons and burial places will be uncovered.”
Russia denies its troops target civilians or have committed atrocities. Mass burial sites have been found in other parts previously occupied by Russian troops, including some with civilian bodies showing signs of torture.
Redeployed Russian forces have also gone on the attack in the southern Zaporizhzhia region as well as in the east, and may also be planning to launch another offensive in Kharkiv in the north, where they were pushed back by Ukraine earlier in the conflict, Arestovych said.
Vladimir Rogod, a Russian-installed official in the Russian-controlled part of Zaporizhzhia, said a Ukrainian missile struck a village there, killing two people and wounding nine.
The top U.S. general, Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, played down chances of any outright military victory for Kyiv in the near term, saying Russia still had significant combat power in Ukraine despite setbacks.