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Russia Strikes Ukrainian Cities With Missiles After Its Retreat From Kherson

Wednesday 16/November/2022 - 03:53 PM
The Reference

Russian forces unleashed a volley of missiles across Ukraine on Tuesday, striking the country’s already beleaguered energy infrastructure and residential buildings in Kyiv days after Moscow suffered a major battlefield setback, government officials said.

“There’s an attack on the capital,” Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said on Telegram, adding that at least one person had been killed. “Medics and rescue workers are at the scene of the strikes.”

At least 85 missiles were launched across the country, said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, making it one of the largest waves of strikes since Moscow began a strategy last month of hitting critical infrastructure ahead of the winter freeze. Kyrylo Tymoshenko, the deputy head of Mr. Zelensky’s office, said Ukraine’s air defenses shot down 70 missiles. Strikes hit electrical networks in Kharkiv, northeastern Ukraine, and Lviv in the west, city officials said. Mr. Klitschko said emergency power outages would be rotated throughout Ukraine.

A missile hit Polish territory near the border with Ukraine late Tuesday, said senior officials in Latvia and Hungary, both members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Polish authorities said that explosions hit the village of Przewodow, which sits just several miles from Poland’s border with Ukraine.

The Polish government called an emergency security meeting soon after the explosions, without specifying the reason. It wasn’t immediately clear if the missile was Russian. On Tuesday evening, the Russian government denied any responsibility for the strikes.

The assaults came a day after Mr. Zelensky visited the front-line city of Kherson, from which Russian forces have withdrawn in the past week. They stood in contrast to the jubilation in Kyiv and Ukraine’s south, where residents were celebrating the return of Ukrainian forces to Kherson.

It also occurred on the day CIA Director William Burns met Mr. Zelensky and Ukrainian intelligence officials, a U.S. official said.

Mr. Burns, the official said, shared with the Ukrainian officials a warning he delivered to the head of Russia’s foreign intelligence service, Sergey Naryshkin, about any Russian use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine. The official said Mr. Burns was safe and in the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv during the missile strikes.

Earlier Tuesday, Mr. Zelensky called for justice for Russian war crimes in an address to world leaders at a summit of the Group of 20 nations in Indonesia. As part of a series of conditions for ending the conflict, he demanded that Russia free Ukrainian prisoners and that Moscow’s troops and officers face a special tribunal for war crimes.

“Everywhere, when we liberate our land, we see one thing—Russia leaves behind torture chambers and mass burials of murdered people,” Mr. Zelensky said. “This was the case in Bucha and other cities in the north of the country after the occupation. This was the case in the Kharkiv region. The same we observe now in the Kherson region.”

Mr. Zelensky’s remarks come as the Biden administration has increasingly been calling on Kyiv to seek a diplomatic solution to the conflict in Ukraine. Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns met with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Naryshkin, in Turkey earlier this week as part of an expanding effort to engage Moscow while warning it against using nuclear weapons.

Following the strikes, U.S. national-security adviser Jake Sullivan said they would serve to “only deepen the concerns among the G-20 about the destabilizing impact of Putin’s war.”

“The United States and our allies and partners will continue to provide Ukraine with what it needs to defend itself, including air defense systems. We will stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes,” he said.

A joint statement from NATO members and Group of Seven leaders on the margins of the G-20 Summit said, “We condemn the barbaric missile attacks that Russia perpetrated on Ukrainian cities and civilian infrastructure on Tuesday. We reaffirm our steadfast support for Ukraine and the Ukrainian people in the face of ongoing Russian aggression, as well as our continued readiness to hold Russia accountable for its brazen attacks on Ukrainian communities.’’

Many Western officials are skeptical that President Vladimir Putin will be open soon to a settlement that involves Russian withdrawal from occupied regions of Ukraine—a key demand for Kyiv. On Tuesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters: “Ukraine cannot and does not want to negotiate. Therefore, the goals of the Russian Federation will be carried out by continuing the special military operation.”

Russian forces, increasingly exposed to Ukrainian advances, have taken up new positions on the east bank of the Dnipro River after withdrawing from Kherson, according to the Ukrainian southern command.

Both sides generally consider the river, which runs between Kherson and the rest of the region that carries the same name, as the front line. On Tuesday, small-arms fire could be heard near the banks of the Dnipro.

After Russian forces captured the city in the early stages of the invasion, Kherson was Moscow’s biggest stronghold in the south and a launchpad for Russian rocket and artillery strikes on Ukraine’s southern front. The withdrawal has pushed Russian troops further back and brought the region Moscow said it was annexing back under Ukrainian control.

The U.K. Defense Ministry said Russian forces had relocated to the Azov Sea port city of Henichesk, which would serve as the new capital of Russian-occupied parts of the Kherson region as Moscow’s troops assess new threats following Kyiv’s gains.

 “The choice of this area as a command node hints at the priorities and concerns of Russian commanders as they consolidate their defenses in southern Ukraine,” the ministry said. “It is well positioned to coordinate action against potential Ukrainian threats from both Kherson city in the west, or via Melitopol to the northeast, and to receive reinforcements from Crimea.”

When asked whether Kherson remained the regional capital for Russia, Kremlin spokesman Mr. Peskov told reporters Tuesday that no other decisions had been made.

The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said Russia would likely try to redeploy to Ukraine’s east, where Moscow’s forces have been working for weeks to gain territory around the city of Bakhmut.

Days since Ukrainian forces swept into Kherson, the extent of the toll from the monthslong Russian occupation on the civilian population was still coming into focus. Accounts from locals detailed torture and disappearances, and Mr. Zelensky has said Ukrainian authorities had found evidence of hundreds of war crimes.

The day after Mr. Zelensky visited the city, seeing the Ukrainian flag restored to the regional administration building, residents were still jubilant. Children stood on street corners around the city, Ukrainian flags draped over their shoulders, shouting “Slava Ukraini,” or “Glory to Ukraine,” at passing military vehicles and asking soldiers for autographs.

“It’s better than my birthday, New Year, or any holiday,” said Viktoria Savluchenko, 32 years old. Stands at the markets were full of fresh fruits and vegetables—eggplants, onions, grapes, potatoes—but electricity, cell service and water were out. Residents lined up to fill bottles of water all over the city. Many asked soldiers for food and money.

In the market, friends who hadn’t been able to reach each other by phone embraced. In courtyards outside apartment complexes, residents gathered at sundown to drink Champagne before the 5 p.m. curfew.

Many people crowded around a generator that had been set up in the square, one of the few spots in the city where cell service had been restored, to charge their phones or check text messages.

People ran to humanitarian-aid trucks that were handing out bread, and some gathered around an ambulance in the hope that it might dispense medications.