Russia hit the Ukrainian city of Kryvyi Rih with cruise missiles again on Thursday, after a devastating strike the day before destroyed a reservoir dam and caused extensive flooding.
The latest attack on the home city of Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, caused serious damage. Two missiles struck the same reservoir hit on Wednesday, which was being repaired, Kryvyi Rih’s military administrator, Oleksandr Vilkul, said. He urged residents to stay in shelters.
It came as Zelenskiy met the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, who was in Kyiv on her third visit since Russia’s full-scale invasion.
Zelenskiy, in his late-night address on Wednesday, described Russia’s tactics as the work of “weaklings and scoundrels” who had fled the battlefield and were doing harm from “far away”.
On Thursday he said the Kremlin was cynically targeting thousands of civilians in revenge for its military defeats. “We are not talking about army infrastructure here. This isn’t a surprise for us,” he said, standing next to Von der Leyen at his Mariinsky Palace residence.
Russia has stepped up its attacks on power and utilities providers after Ukraine’s shock counteroffensive in the north-east of the country. In the space of a few days, Ukrainian troops have recaptured almost all of the Kharkiv region, including nearly 400 settlements.
Moscow’s recent strikes have cut off essential water and power. Earlier this week Russian warplanes fired long-range missiles into a major electricity station in Kharkiv, plunging the city and much of the surrounding area into darkness.
Zelenskiy said he and the European Commission president discussed how to keep their citizens warm during the winter, at a time when Moscow has shut off gas to much of Europe. Ukraine is exporting electricity to the EU after being connected in March to its grid.
He also called on Germany, Italy, France, the US and Israel to provide Kyiv with modern air defence systems. Berlin has promised to send Iris-T air defence units but they have yet to arrive. Zelenskiy said the technology was urgently needed to give Ukrainians security.
For the top European official’s visit, the Ukrainian president unveiled a walk of fame-style slab featuring Von der Leyen’s name outside his palace residence. She joins repeat visitors Boris Johnson and the Polish president, Andrzej Duda, on the “Alley of the Brave”. Air raid alarms sounded minutes before Thursday’s joint press conference.
Von der Leyen said the successful Ukrainian counteroffensive around Kharkiv had “lifted the spirits” of Zelenskiy’s “European friends”. Talks were ongoing over Kyiv’s accession to the EU and to the single market, she said, adding: “We are friends for ever. We will be with you as long as it takes.”
In Kryvyi Rih, engineers had started to repair some of the missile damage to the hydraulics system that had caused the Inhulets River to burst its banks. Eight cruise missiles hit the pumping station there on Wednesday in what the foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, described as a cowardly “act of terror”.
According to the Kharkiv region governor, Oleh Synyehubov, Russian soldiers retreating from the city of Balakliia blew up the local gas operator. They stole almost all of the company’s specialised vehicles, Synyehubov said, adding that the Ukrainian utility services were working to restore supply.
Russian units were reported to be digging in around the city of Svatove, in Luhansk province, after their retreat from the neighbouring Kharkiv region last week. They have been fortifying positions on the east bank of the Oskil River, about 10 miles from the newly liberated city of Izium.
Leonid Pasechnik, the head of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic, conceded that the “Ukrainian enemy” was now “virtually at the borders”. He insisted there was absolutely no reason to panic, repeating the phrase twice.
The Institute for the Study of War reported that the Kremlin was trying to deflect blame for Russia’s uncomfortable military setbacks from Vladimir Putin. They were instead attributing blame to “underinformed military advisers,” the US thinktank said in its latest briefing.
It added: “Kremlin officials and state media propagandists are extensively discussing the reasons for the Russian defeat in Kharkiv oblast, a marked change from their previous pattern of reporting on exaggerated or fabricated Russian successes with limited detail.”