Russia steps up missile strikes to slow Ukraine’s counteroffensive

Russia is escalating missile strikes on Ukrainian infrastructure, blowing up reservoir dams and electricity generators in a campaign described by Kyiv as “terrorist acts” aimed at slowing its counteroffensive.

A second consecutive day of Russian attacks on Thursday hit a dam in the central city of Kryviy Rih, the hometown of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

“There were two strikes again in the area of hydroelectric infrastructure,” Oleksander Vilkul, the city’s mayor, said in a post on Telegram.

Having stated earlier on Thursday that water levels were receding after construction crews patched up the dam and river fortifications, Vilkul again urged citizens to seek safety in bunkers.

The dam, which forms a vast reservoir along the Inhulets river, was hit multiple times on Wednesday, unleashing heavy floods on the city known for its iron and steel production. Running water was knocked out in some neighbourhoods, forcing residents to buy supplies of drinking water.

Russian missile strikes on electricity generators and grids have knocked out power across this week eastern regions from Kharkiv in the north-east to Zaporizhzhia in the south-east.

“The day before they hit the power plant in Kharkiv and left hundreds of thousands of people without electricity, now they are hitting a dam at a huge reservoir, threatening to flood and deprive peaceful people of running water,” said Yuriy Sak, an adviser to Ukraine’s defence minister.

“They are artificially making natural disasters . . . These strikes are yet [more] proof that Russia is a terrorist state that is impotent on the battlefield and tries to compensate for its humiliation by terrorising civilian populations and targeting civilian infrastructure,” Sak added.

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Moscow’s defence ministry has not officially announced a new focus on targeting civilian infrastructure. However, the escalation has not gone unnoticed by Russia’s pro-war commentators, many of whom had been surprised by Ukraine’s rapid advance in the north-east after it had announced its intention to focus on the southern Kherson region.

Many pro-invasion observers cheered the attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure and described them as long overdue, while politicians stepped in to justify the strikes.

“It’s time for Russia to abandon the rules, which it adopted voluntarily, causing it to target only military infrastructure, and not to hit other [targets],” said Sergey Mironov, a member of the Duma, during a session of the lower house of the Russian parliament on Tuesday.

Flooding of the Inhulets south of Kryviy Rih threatens to cut off Ukrainian troops from supply lines as they advance towards Russian forces in the southern Kherson region. The offensive is intended to regain some of the territory lost in the first weeks since Russian president Vladimir Putin launched the full-scale invasion in late February.

Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser in Zelenskyy’s administration, said Russia’s army “expected that a wave would go along the Inhulets river and wash away our pontoons, our crossings, which our troops use to operate in this theatre”.

Zelenskyy pleaded with foreign backers to provide more surface-to-air defence systems, adding that Israel was among the countries with whom Kyiv was in talks over their supply.

On the Kryviy Rih missile strikes, Zelenskyy said: “All the occupiers can do is to sow panic, create an emergency situation, try to leave people without light, heat, water and food. Can it break us? Not at all. Will they face a fair response and retribution? Definitely yes.”

Since early summer, Ukraine’s forces have conducted rocket strikes on bridges along the Dnipro river near Kherson to cut off thousands of Russian troops on the western bank from supply lines leading to the occupied Crimean peninsula.

Sak justified these strikes, saying “every time Ukraine hits a bridge to cut their logistics, it doesn’t create a natural disaster that affects the civilian population”.

Russia has been conducting artillery strikes at Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant despite controlling the facility, Sak said. He said these were routine provocations that were blamed on Ukraine and used to justify its occupation of the facility.

Additional reporting by Polina Ivanova in Berlin

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