Zelensky: We must work fast to retake Ukrainian territory as Russia panics
Speed is of the essence as Ukraine continues to take back its territory, President Zelensky has said, adding that Russian forces were panicking in the face of a continuing counter-offensive.
Zelensky said he was focused on the speed at which recently liberated areas could be stabilised, as well as the pace of the military advance.
“The occupiers are clearly in a panic,” he declared in his nightly address. He said he was now “confident that the occupiers will not have any foothold on Ukrainian soil”.
Zelensky hinted he would use a video address to the United Nations general assembly tomorrow to call on countries to accelerate weapons and aid deliveries.
But the continuing threat from Russian attacks was highlighted by a missile landing just 300 yards away from Ukraine’s second largest nuclear power station, making it the third major such facility to come under threat.
The missile landed on Monday at the Yuzhnoukrainsk power plant in the south of Mykolaiv province. Mykolaiv is just to the west of the front line of the current Ukrainian offensive on Kherson, the largest city taken by Russia in its invasion in February.
Officials said the blast caused by the missile broke windows and equipment, calling the strike an “act of nuclear terrorism”. However, there was no major damage, and three power lines that were taken out of service were later restored.
The largest nuclear plant in the country, at Enerhodar near the city of Zaporizhzhya, has been in Russian hands since March and is now on the front line. The International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN nuclear watchdog, persuaded Russia to allow two inspectors to be based at the plant after it repeatedly came under shellfire, with each side accusing the other of responsibility.
Early in the war there were concerns for the remains of the Chernobyl nuclear power station northwest of Kyiv, which still requires constant maintenance to keep it safe after the nuclear disaster there in 1986.
In Mykolaiv, the missile blew out a crater 6½ft-deep and 13ft wide. A nearby hydroelectric plant was briefly shut down.
Russia has increased its attacks on infrastructure since suffering a series of rapid defeats in eastern Ukraine. Its positions in Kherson are also under intense pressure. Cruise missile attacks have so far taken out the main power station in Kharkiv and water pumping stations, and damaged a dam in the central industrial hub of Kryvyi Rih.
The partial blockade of Black Sea ports has also brought industrial exports to a halt, putting a huge but unseen economic pressure on the Ukrainian authorities as winter approaches.
While the Ukrainian counter-offensive in the Kharkiv region has slowed, partly because of fierce resistance from Russians defending the line of the Oskil river in the town of Kupiansk, Ukraine has retaken territory in the Luhansk region, in the Donbas, that almost entirely fell into Russian hands after a long and brutal battle in early summer.
Video posted online showed Ukrainian soldiers in the town of Bilohorivka, near the Siverskyi Donets river, 55 miles from the provincial capital Luhansk. Bilohorivka is only six miles west of Lysychansk city, which fell to the Russians after weeks of grinding battles in July.
“There will be fighting for every centimetre,” the Ukrainian regional governor Serhiy Hayday said. “The enemy is preparing their defence. So we will not simply march in.”
In turn, Russian-installed officials accused Ukraine of shelling a village in occupied Luhansk, which they said killed seven civilians including three children.
President Putin’s announcement of the two eastern Donbas regions — Luhansk and Donetsk — as independent states was the immediate precursor to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February. The two Kremlin-backed regions said today they will hold “immediate” referendums on joining Russia.
The move by the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic was backed by Dmitry Medvedev, the former Russian president, who is now deputy head of Russia’s security council.
The consequences of any decision to incorporate the breakaway regions into Russia would be significant: Ukrainian troops, armed with western weapons, would immediately find themselves fighting inside territory that the Kremlin claims as its own. Dates for the referendums are yet to be announced.
Russia has also withdrawn submarines from its Black Sea naval headquarters in Crimea, according to the British Ministry of Defence. The relocation of the fleet from Sevastopol comes after a drone strike on the base in August, in which Ukrainian troops hit the headquarters, as well as a nearby air base.
“The command of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet has almost certainly relocated its Kilo-class submarines from their home port of Sevastopol in Crimea to Novorossiysk in Krasnodar Krai, southern Russia,” the MoD said.