KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian forces on Friday claimed yet another success in their counteroffensive against Russian forces in the east of the country, taking control of a major village and moving toward a major transportation hub. The US diplomat and NATO chief noted the progress but warned the war could drag on for months.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has praised the military for its gains in the east, saying in an overnight video address that Ukrainian troops have retaken more than 30 settlements in the Kharkiv region since the counteroffensive began this week.
“We are gradually taking over more settlements, returning the Ukrainian flag and protecting our people.” Zelensky said.
The Ukrainian military said it also launched new attacks on Russian pontoon bridges used to ferry supplies across the Dnieper to Kherson, one of the largest Russian-occupied cities, and the adjacent region. Ukrainian artillery and rocket fire rendered all regular bridges across the river unusable, the army’s southern command said.
Concern has grown over Europe’s biggest nuclear power plant, which was operating in emergency mode on Friday for the fifth day in a row due to the war. This prompted the head of the UN’s atomic watchdog to call for the creation of an immediate safety zone around the plant to avoid a nuclear accident.
The six-reactor Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant came under the control of Russian forces at the start of the war, but is operated by Ukrainian personnel. The plant and surrounding areas have been repeatedly hit by shelling that Russia and Ukraine blame each other for. The last power line connecting the plant to the Ukrainian power grid was cut on Monday, leaving the plant without an external source of electricity. It is powered for its own safety systems by the only reactor – out of six in total – which remains operational.
In other advances, the Ukrainian army said it had taken control of the village of Volokhiv Yar in the Kharkiv region and aimed to advance towards the strategically valuable city of Kupyansk, which would cut off Russian forces from the main roads of ‘supply.
Pro-Russian authorities in the Kupyansk district announced that civilians were being evacuated to the Russian-held Luhansk region.
“The early signs are positive and we see Ukraine making real and demonstrable progress in a deliberate way,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in Brussels, a day after his visit to Kyiv.
“But it’s probably going to last for a significant period of time,” he said. “There are a large number of Russian forces in Ukraine and unfortunately, tragically, horribly, President (Vladimir) Putin has demonstrated that he will send a lot of people in there at enormous cost to Russia.”
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who met with Blinken, said the war “is entering a critical phase”.
The gains “are modest and are only the first successes of the Ukrainian army’s counter-offensive, but they are important both for seizing military initiative and raising the spirit of Ukrainian soldiers,” Mykola Sunhurovskyi said. , a military analyst at the Razumkov Center in Kyiv, told The Associated Press.
Energoatom, Ukraine’s state nuclear operator, said on Friday that repairs to the outside power lines of the Zaporizhzhia power plant are impossible due to the bombardment and that operating the plant in what is called an “island” status carries “the risk of violating radiation and fire safety standards.” .”
“Only the withdrawal of the Russians from the plant and the creation of a security zone around it can normalize the situation at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. Only then can the world breathe,” said Petro Kotin, the head of Energoatom, on Ukrainian television. .
Earlier, Kotin told The Associated Press that the plant’s only operating reactor “can be completely shut down” at any time and therefore the only power source would be a diesel generator.
There are 20 generators on site and enough diesel fuel for 10 days. After that, around 200 tons of diesel fuel would be needed daily for the generators, which he said is “impossible” to obtain while the plant is occupied by Russian forces.
Rafael Mariano Grossi, the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said on Friday there was little chance of restoring reliable offsite power lines to the plant.
“This is an unsustainable situation and one that is becoming more and more precarious,” Grossi said, calling for “an immediate halt to all shelling throughout the area” and the creation of a protection zone. and nuclear safety.
“It’s the only way to make sure we don’t face a nuclear accident,” he said.
Fighting continued Friday elsewhere in Ukraine.
Russian planes bombed the hospital in the town of Velika Pysarivka, on the border with Russia, said Dmytro Zhyvytskyi, governor of the Sumy region. He said the building was destroyed and there were an unknown number of casualties.
In the Donetsk region to the east – one of two which Russia declared to be sovereign states at the start of the war – eight people have been killed in the town of Bakhmut in the past day and the town is without water or electricity for the fourth straight day, Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said.
Four people were killed in shelling in the Kharkiv region, including two in the city of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, according to Governor Oleh Syniehubov. The shelling of the city continued Friday afternoon, Mayor Ihor Terekhov said, injuring 10 people, including three children.
Ukraine claimed this week to have regained control of more than 20 settlements in the Kharkiv region, including the small town of Balakliya. Social media posts showed crying and smiling Balakliya residents hugging Ukrainian soldiers.
On Friday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to comment on the alleged takeover of Balakliya, referring all such questions to the Russian Defense Ministry.
But Vitaly Ganchev, the Russian-installed official in the Kharkiv region, confirmed on Friday that “Balakliya, indeed, is not under our control.” Ganchev said “difficult battles” continued in the city.
Helicopters and fighter jets hovered over the rolling plains of the Donetsk region, with the planes heading towards Izium, near where Ukrainian forces have been carrying out a counteroffensive in the Kharkiv region. The jets fired flares and black smoke billowed in the distance.
Associated Press writer Elena Becatoros in Donetsk region, Ukraine, and Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this report.
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