Russia launched two missile attacks that hit apartment blocks in the southern Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia on Thursday, killing one person and trapping at least five in the city close to Europe’s biggest nuclear power plant, the Governor of the mostly Russian-occupied region said.
The missile strikes, the first before dawn and another in the morning, came just hours after Ukraine's president announced that the country's military had retaken three more villages in one of the regions illegally annexed by Russia, the latest battlefield reversal for Moscow.
Governor Oleksandr Starukh wrote on his Telegram channel that many people were rescued from the multi-story buildings, including a 3-year-old girl who was taken to a hospital for treatment.
Photos provided by emergency services showed rescuers scrambling through rubble in the wreckage of a devastated building looking for survivors.
“The terrorist country has shown its beastly face by converting defense weapons into offensive weapons and killing peacefully sleeping people,” Mr. Starukh wrote.
The deputy head of the Ukraine President’s office, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, said 10 people had been killed in the latest Russian attacks in the Dnipro, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions.
Zaporizhzhia is one of four regions that Russian President Vladimir Putin annexed in violation of international laws on Wednesday, and is home to a nuclear plant that is under Russian occupation. The city of the same name remains under Ukrainian control.
The head of the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog is expected to visit Kyiv this week to discuss the situation at the Zaporizhzhia facility after Mr. Putin signed a decree on Wednesday declaring that Russia was taking over the six-reactor plant. Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry called it a criminal act and said it considered Mr. Putin’s decree “null and void.” The state nuclear operator, Energoatom, said it would continue to operate the plant.
Rafael Grossi, the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, plans to talk with Ukrainian officials about the Russian move. He will also discuss efforts to set up a secure protection zone around the facility, which has been damaged in the fighting and seen staff including its director abducted by Russian troops.
Mr. Grossi will travel to Moscow for talks with Russian officials after a stop in Kyiv.
The U.S. sent its international development chief to Kyiv on Thursday, the highest-ranking American official to visit Ukraine since Russia illegally annexed the four regions.
The head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Samantha Power, was holding meetings with government officials and residents. She said the U.S. would provide an additional $55 million to repair heating pipes and other equipment.
USAID said the United States has delivered $9.89 billion in aid to Ukraine since February. A spending bill signed by U.S. President Joe Biden last week promises another $12.3 billion directed both at military and public services needs. Power said Washington plans to release the first $4.5 billion of that funding in the coming weeks.
Meanwhile, leaders from more than 40 countries were meeting in Prague on Thursday to launch a “European Political Community” aimed at boosting security and prosperity across the continent.
“What you will see here is that Europe stands in solidarity against the Russian invasion in Ukraine,” Iceland’s prime minister, Katrin Jakobsdottir, told reporters at Prague Castle, a day after the Kremlin held the door open for further land grabs in Ukraine.
Speaking in a conference call with reporters, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday that “certain territories will be reclaimed, and we will keep consulting residents who would be eager to embrace Russia.”
The precise borders of the areas Moscow is claiming remain unclear, but Putin has vowed to defend Russia’s territory — including the annexed regions — with any means at his military’s disposal, including nuclear weapons.
In his nightly video address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that the Ukrainian army recaptured three more villages in the Kherson region. Novovoskrysenske, Novohryhorivka, and Petropavlivka are all situated northeast of Kherson.
Ukrainian forces are seizing back villages in Kherson in humiliating battlefield defeats for Russian forces that have badly dented the image of a powerful Russian military and added to the tensions surrounding an ill-planned mobilization. They have also fueled fighting among Kremlin insiders and left Putin increasingly cornered.
On Wednesday, the Ukrainian military said the Ukrainian flag had been raised above seven Kherson region villages previously occupied by the Russians. The closest of the liberated villages to the city of Kherson is Davydiv Brid, some 100 kilometers (60 miles) away.
The deputy head of the Ukrainian regional government, Yurii Sobolevskyi, said military hospitals were full of wounded Russian soldiers and that Russian military medics lacked supplies. Once they are stabilized, Russian soldiers are being sent to Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
When Russian troops pulled back from the Donetsk city of Lyman over the weekend, they retreated so rapidly that they left behind the bodies of their comrades. Some were still lying by the side of the road leading into the city on Wednesday.
Ukrain's presidential office said 10 more bodies of people killed during the Russian occupation were recovered over the past 24 hours in Lyman and Sviatohirsk following their recapture.
Lyman sustained heavy damage both during the occupation and as Ukrainian soldiers fought to retake it. Mykola, a 71-year-old man who gave only his first name, was among about 100 residents who lined up for aid on Wednesday.
“We want the war to come to an end, the pharmacy and shops and hospitals to start working as they used to,” he said. “Now we don’t have anything yet. Everything is destroyed and pillaged, a complete disaster.”
In his nightly address, a defiant Mr. Zelenskyy switched to speaking Russian to tell the Moscow leadership that it has already lost the war that it launched Feb. 24.
“You have lost because even now, on the 224th day of full-scale war, you have to explain to your society why this is all necessary.”
He said Ukrainians know what they are fighting for.
“And more and more citizens of Russia are realizing that they must die simply because one person does not want to end the war,” Mr. Zelenskyy said.