Russians use captured nuclear power plant as base for artillery strikes: Kyiv

(AFP) – Russia is using Europe’s largest nuclear power plant as a base to stockpile weapons, including “missile systems”, and bomb surrounding areas in Ukraine, an official with Russia’s nuclear agency said on Friday. Kyiv, while almost the whole country was placed under air raid alert.

The president of Ukraine’s nuclear agency Energoatom said the situation at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant was “extremely tense”, with up to 500 Russian soldiers controlling the plant.

“The occupiers are bringing their machines there, including missile systems, from which they are already bombarding the other side of the Dnipro river and the territory of Nikopol,” Petro Kotin said in a TV interview, referring to the city of the other side of the water.

The factory in southwestern Ukraine has been under Russian control since the first weeks of the invasion of Moscow, although it is still operated by Ukrainian personnel.

The latest attack in the Dnipro region left three dead and 15 injured after “Russian missiles hit an industrial enterprise and a busy street nearby”, regional governor Valentin Reznichenko said on Telegram.

The threat of air raids in most of Ukraine was also raised after strikes were reported in areas away from the front lines, with President Volodymyr Zelensky saying the Russian objective was to “cause maximum damage to Ukrainian cities”.

“I urge you, once again: please don’t ignore the air raid signals now,” he said in his daily televised address.

Zelensky spoke after devastating Russian strikes in the town of Vinnytsia in central Ukraine killed nearly two dozen people, including three children, as rescuers cleared debris throughout the day to locate survivors.

Four people are still missing and more than 200 injured, Zelensky said.

“Both nationally and internationally, we will do everything to hold absolutely all Russian murderers accountable for what they have done,” he said.

Bestowal for a Toddler Killed

Russia has claimed that the strikes in Vinnytsia – hundreds of miles from the frontline fighting – killed Ukrainian military officials and destroyed foreign arms suppliers.

But among those killed was four-year-old Liza Dmitrieva, who has Down syndrome and whose death sparked an outpouring after footage of her last moments alive went viral on social media.

Officials initially believed Liza’s mother was also killed, but said on Friday she was alive and in “critical” condition following the operation.

First Lady Olena Zelenska said Friday morning she was “horrified” by Liza’s death and the footage of her overturned stroller released by local authorities.

The missile strikes on Vinnytsia are the latest attacks to take a heavy toll on civilians and come less than a week after strikes on Chasiv Yar in the Donetsk region that left nearly 50 people dead.

A strike hit the central square of Kramatorsk, a major city and administrative center of Donbass, on Friday. Authorities said no one had been injured since it happened during curfew.

“I have no words to describe the horror I experienced today,” Anastasiya said, after rockets fell near her apartment building.

“It’s good that he fell outside and didn’t fly into the house. It was lucky.”

Moscow launched its invasion on February 24 and the conflict has killed thousands, destroyed cities and forced millions to flee their homes.

The heaviest fighting recently in Ukraine has been centered in the industrial Donbass region to the east, where trench battles and artillery duels are turning into a war of attrition.

‘Clearing’ the city of Donbass

The UK said on Friday that the Kremlin “must take full responsibility” for the death of a British captive in eastern Ukraine.

“I am shocked to learn of the death of British aid worker Paul Urey while in the custody of a Russian proxy in Ukraine,” Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said.

Moscow-backed separatists said on Friday they were closing in on their next target, Siversk, after seizing sister cities Lysychansk and Severodonetsk – about 30 kilometers (18 miles) to the east – two weeks ago .

And Donetsk separatist official Daniil Versonov said rebel fighters were “clearing” Siversk’s eastern neighborhoods in small groups.

Ukraine has repeatedly urged its allies to provide it with advanced long-range precision artillery systems that would allow it to target Russian forces deeper inside Ukrainian-held territory.

Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said Friday that Ukraine had taken delivery of its first batch of advanced M270 rocket systems, adding to a growing arsenal of Western-supplied artillery. According to Kyiv, the dynamics are changing on the battlefield.

In his remarks, Zelensky said the United States would include additional aid for his country in a new budget bill, including the development of Ukraine’s air capabilities to “significantly strengthen our defense capability.”

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