Seven rockets were fired at residential buildings in Zaporizhzhia before dawn on Thursday, killing at least three people, as Russia increased its attacks on Ukrainian-held towns amid battlefield casualties of its troops.
The strike leveled an apartment building and videos released by the Zaporizhzhia regional administration showed rescue workers at the scene, with some people still believed to be under the rubble. The city’s mayor, Anatoliy Kuratyev, said 21 people had been rescued, including a three-year-old boy.
Further explosions in the city were reported mid-morning local time. Kuratyev said Russia hit an “infrastructure object”, without specifying the nature of the target.
Thursday’s attacks came a day after Russia said it considered the entire Zaprorizhzhia region, including the city of Zaporizhzhia, part of Russia although it does not occupy it. A law signed by the Russian President, Vladimir Poutineclarified on Wednesday that Russia claims all four regions it illegally annexed in their entirety – despite the fact that Russia does not fully control any of them and is standing back.
In announcing its intention to annex the areas, the Russian leadership threatened to use nuclear weapons to respond to attacks on what they now consider their territory. Ukraine called it “nuclear blackmail” and said he would not be deterred from continuing his offensives.
Zaporizhzhia, near Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, suffered several fatal attacks last week. On Friday, 30 people died and 88 were injured when a rocket hit the town. Victims were queuing on the outskirts of town to enter the occupied territories and others were waiting at a bus stop.
Five other Ukrainian cities were affected on Thursday, in addition to civilian areas in the Kherson, Donetsk and Luhansk regions close to the fighting.
Russia launched two rockets at the central Ukrainian town of Khmelnytskyi, but both reportedly missed their targets.
Elsewhere, Russia has used what Ukrainian authorities say are Iran-supplied “suicide bomber” drones to target the cities of Mykolaiv, Kharkiv and Odessa. The Ukrainian military said it managed to shoot down 18 more drones before they reached Odessa and Mykolaiv.
Iranian drones are able to stay in the air for several hours and hover over potential targets, before being hurled at enemy troops, armor or buildings and exploding on impact.
Although Ukrainian authorities are insisting that civilians evacuate frontline areas, people still live along the line of contact; a mix of older people as well as people who say they can’t afford to restart elsewhere. Deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential administration Kyrylo Tymoshenko said 14 of the 20 civilians killed in the past 24 hours lived in Ukrainian-controlled areas in the Donetsk region.
Ukraine continued to make progress in the east and south, and Russian troops retreated under pressure on both fronts. In his Wednesday night address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Ukraine had retaken three more villages as it advanced in the southern region of Kherson.
Putin appeared to admit serious losses on Wednesday during a televised call with teachers, saying the Kremlin was “working on the assumption that the situation in the new territories would stabilize.”
Military analysts say Russia is at his weakest point, having lost masses of material and men, and will only be able to regain ground if its mobilization is a success. Russia announced the partial mobilization of 300,000 men in September after the collapse of their control over half of the Kharkiv region in northeastern Ukraine.
Russia’s retreats have drawn unusual criticism of its strategy from some of its leading propagandists. While they blame Russia’s military leadership, instead of Putin, it nonetheless reflects how those losses have damaged Russia’s strongman narrative.
“What have you been doing during this time?” asked Vladimir Solovyov on his talk show on Thursday. “Please explain to me what the great idea of the general staff is now.”
Part of the rationale given by Soloviev was that Russia was fighting NATO-controlled mercenaries in Ukraine. “The Ukrainian army ceased to exist a long time ago,” he said.
Britain’s Ministry of Defense said on Thursday that Russia faces a dilemma in Kherson, the only area where forces have managed to acquire a regional center since February: the city of Kherson.
“Russia faces a dilemma: the withdrawal of fighting forces across [Dneiper River] makes the defense of the rest of Kherson Oblast more tenable; but the political imperative will be to stay and defend,” the ministry statement read.
Russian officials based in the Kherson region announced that children living in the occupied area would be sent to Crimea, the southern peninsula illegally annexed by Russia in 2014, for two weeks for a fall camp due to the security situation. .
The announcement said “educational events, exciting trips and meeting interesting people” awaited the children. While this may be an attempt by Russian authorities to protect children from the fast-moving frontlines, it follows a pattern of Russia seeking to immerse Ukrainian children living in occupied areas in their propaganda narratives.
Russia also took Ukrainian orphans from occupied areas to Russia, which Ukrainian authorities described as removal.