KYIV, Ukraine – Russian airstrikes again targeted Ukrainian energy facilities on Thursday as the first snow of the season fell in Kyiv, a harbinger of difficulties to come if missiles from Moscow continue to destroy power plants and gas as winter approaches.
In addition, the United Nations announced the extension of an agreement to guarantee grain and fertilizer exports from Ukraine which have been disrupted by the war. The deal was set to expire soon, rekindling fears of a global food crisis if exports from one of the world’s biggest grain producers were blocked.
Even though all parties have agreed to extend the grain deal, air raid sirens sounded across Ukraine on Thursday. At least seven people were killed and more than two dozen others injured in the drone and missile strikes, including one that hit a residential building, authorities said.
Kremlin forces suffered a series of setbacks on the ground, the latest being the loss of the southern city of Kherson. In the face of these defeats, Russia has increasingly resorted to air strikes targeting energy infrastructure and other civilian targets in parts of Ukraine it does not hold.
Russia on Tuesday unleashed a nationwide barrage of more than 100 missiles and drones that knocked out power to 10 million people in Ukraine – strikes described by Ukraine’s energy minister as the biggest attack to date on the country’s electricity grid in nearly nine months of war.
It also resulted in a missile landing in Poland, killing two people. Authorities were still trying to determine where the missile came from, with early indications pointing to a Ukrainian air defense system seeking to counter the Russian bombardment.
Polish President Andrzej Duda visited the site where the missile landed on Thursday and expressed his understanding for the fate of Ukraine. “It’s an extremely difficult situation for them and there are great emotions, there is also great stress,” Duda said.
The new bombings come as many Ukrainians deal with the discomforts of regular power cuts and heating failures. A light snow dusted the capital on Thursday, where the temperature fell below freezing. Kyiv’s military administration said air defenses shot down four Iranian-made cruise missiles and five explosive drones.
In eastern Ukraine, Russia “has launched a massive attack on gas production infrastructure”, said the head of the national energy company Naftogaz, Oleksiy Chernishov. He did not give details.
Russian strikes also hit the central city of Dnipro and Odessa region in southern Ukraine for the first time in weeks, and hit critical infrastructure in the northeastern region of Kharkiv, near Izium, injuring three workers.
The head of Ukraine’s presidential office, Andriy Yermak, called the strikes against energy targets “naive tactics of cowardly losers”.
“Ukraine has already withstood extremely difficult strikes by the enemy, which did not yield the results that Russian cowards hoped for,” Yermak wrote on Telegram on Thursday.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address that 10 million people in Ukraine were also without power on Thursday, mostly in Kyiv, Odessa, Sumy and Vinnytsia regions. Ukraine had a pre-war population of around 40 million.
Zelenskyy earlier posted a video on Telegram which he said was about one of the explosions at Dnipro. Footage from a vehicle’s dashboard camera showed an explosion of fire engulfing a rainy road.
“This is another confirmation from Dnipro of how terrorists want peace,” Zelenskyy wrote, referring to Kremlin forces. “The peaceful city and the desire of people to live their usual life. Go to work, to their business. A rocket attack!
Valentyn Reznichenko, governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region, said a major fire broke out in Dnipro after the strikes hit an industrial target there. The attack injured at least 23 people, Reznichenko said.
The Russian Defense Ministry said the strikes in Dnipropetrovsk hit a factory that produces military rocket engines.
In the Odessa region, an infrastructure target was hit, Governor Maksym Marchenko said on Telegram, warning of the threat of a “massive missile barrage on the entire territory of Ukraine.”
Elsewhere, a Russian strike that hit a residential building killed at least seven people overnight in Vilniansk, in the southern region of Zaporizhzhia. Rescuers searched the rubble on Thursday, looking for other possible victims.
Officials in Ukraine’s northeast Poltava and Kharkiv regions and western Khmelnytskyi and Rivne regions have urged residents to stay in bomb shelters.
The UN’s nuclear watchdog has warned that repeated strikes on Ukraine’s power grid are putting the country’s nuclear power plants at risk. Reactors need electricity for cooling and other essential safety functions, and their emergency generators can only provide emergency electricity for a limited time.
A nuclear power plant in Khmelnytskyi was cut off from the power grid on Tuesday, forcing it to temporarily rely on diesel generators and shut down its two reactors, the International Atomic Energy Agency said. Another plant in Rivne disconnected one of its four reactors after partially losing connection to the Ukrainian external grid.
IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi said the power outage at the Khmelnytskyi power plant “clearly demonstrates that the nuclear safety and security situation in Ukraine may suddenly worsen, increasing the risk of ‘a nuclear emergency’.
Grossi also expressed serious concerns about the possibility of a radiation leak at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe, which was held by Russian forces for most of the war.
The impact of the war has been felt far beyond Ukraine, in global food and energy markets. Ukraine and Russia are among the largest grain exporters in the world, and Russia is also a major fertilizer producer.
There have been concerns in recent days over the fate of the UN-brokered deal with Turkey that created a safe shipping corridor in the Black Sea to deal with disruptions to wartime grain exports. The deal was due to expire on Saturday, but UN Secretary-General António Guterres said it had been extended for 120 days.
In addition to ensuring the safe passage of Ukrainian exports, António Guterres said the United Nations is also “fully committed” to removing obstacles that have hindered the export of food and fertilizers from Russia.
The Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed the extension and Zelenskyy called it “a key decision in the global fight against the food crisis”.
Associated Press writers Jamey Keaten in Geneva and Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, contributed to this report.
Follow AP coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine