Russian air strikes hit Ukrainian cities as ground battle rages in Bakhmut

It's the worst bombardment in weeks, as Correspondent John Ray reports

Russia has launched missiles at energy infrastructure targets across Ukraine, hitting residential buildings and killing at least six people in deadly attacks, officials said.

Russian missiles struck cities including the capital Kyiv, the Black Sea port of Odesa and Ukraine's second largest city Kharkiv early on Thursday morning, according to reports.

In Western Ukraine, four people were killed in the Lviv region after a missile struck a residential area, Lviv Governor Maksym Kozytskyi said.

Three buildings were destroyed by fire after the strike and rescue workers were combing through rubble looking for more possible victims, Mr Kozytskyi added.

A fifth person was killed and two others injured in multiple strikes in the Dnipropetrovsk region that targeted its energy infrastructure and industrial facilities, Governor Serhii Lysak said.

Servicemen carry a coffin of Ukrainian serviceman Oleksiy Sokolovskyi during the funeral ceremony in St. Michael Cathedral in Kyiv. Credit: AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko, meanwhile, said explosions were reported in the Holosiivskyi district of the city, and two people were said to have been injured in the Sviatoshynskyi district, also on the west side of the capital. Some residents reported power cuts.

The head of the UN nuclear watchdog expressed alarm at the latest blackout, saying he was “astonished by the complacency” of members of the organisation he leads, the International Atomic Energy Agency.

“What are we doing to prevent this happening? We are the IAEA, we are meant to care about nuclear safety,” IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi told its board of directors in a meeting on Thursday.

“Each time we are rolling a dice,” he said. “And if we allow this to continue time after time, then one day our luck will run out.”

In eastern Ukraine, 15 missiles struck Kharkiv and the outlying northeastern region, hitting residential buildings, according to the city's governor, Oleh Syniehubov.

“Objects of critical infrastructure is again in the crosshairs of the occupants,” he said in a Telegram post, with the city's mayor adding that there were “problems with electricity” in some areas.

A Ukrainian tank fires towards Russian positions on the front line near Bakhmut, Ukraine. Credit: AP

'Strikes hit the Zaporizhzhia plant'

The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, which is occupied by Russian forces, lost power as a result of the missile attacks, according to nuclear state operator Energoatom.

It was the sixth time the plant was in a state of blackout since it was taken over by Russia months ago, forcing it to rely on 18 diesel generators that can run the station for 10 days, Energoatom said.

Nuclear plants need constant power to run cooling systems and avoid a meltdown.

Specialists from Ukrenergo have since confirmed that the power supply for the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant has been restored following the missile strikes.

Ukraine’s Energy Minister Herman Halushchenko condemned the missile strikes as "another barbaric massive attack on the energy infrastructure of Ukraine".

He wrote in a Facebook post that facilities in Kyiv, Mykolaiv, Kharkiv, Odesa, Dnipropetrovsk and Zhytomyr regions had also been targeted.

'The battle for Bakhmut rages on'

It comes as Ukrainian defenders repelled fierce assaults on the beleaguered eastern city of Bakhmut, which has been the focus of intense fighting for months.

Ukraine's military claimed on Wednesday that its forces pushed back intense Russian attacks on the city, despite Russia saying that it now controls its eastern half.

"The enemy continued its attacks and has shown no sign of a letup in storming the city of Bakhmut," the General Staff of the Ukrainian armed forces wrote in a Facebook post.

"Our defenders repelled attacks on Bakhmut and on surrounding communities."

A Ukrainian serviceman cleans his gun from mud having come back from tranches of Bakhmut in Chasiv Yar. Credit: AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that Russia was putting more soldiers on the frontline, warning that the city may fall within a week.

"They have suffered big losses, but at the same time we cannot rule out that Bakhmut may eventually fall in the coming days," Mr Stoltenberg said before a meeting of European Union defence ministers in Stockholm.

Russia taking the city would, according to some analysts, represent Moscow's first major victory in half a year after the bloodiest battle of the war.

Why is Bakhmut strategically important to Russia?

Bakhmut lies in Donetsk province, one of four provinces Russia illegally annexed last year.

Moscow controls half of Donetsk province. To take the remaining half of that province, Russian forces must go through Bakhmut, the only approach to bigger Ukrainian-held cities.

Analysts say the fall of Bakhmut would be a blow for Ukraine and offer tactical advantages to Russia, but would not prove decisive to the war’s outcome.

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