Ukrainian forces on Friday claimed new success in their counteroffensive against Russian forces in the country’s east, taking control of a sizeable village and pushing toward an important transport junction. The United States’ top diplomat and the head of NATO noted the advances, but cautioned that the war is likely to drag on for months.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy commended the military for its gains in the east, saying in a nightly video address that Ukrainian troops have reclaimed more than 30 settlements in the Kharkiv region since the start of the counteroffensive there this week.
“We are gradually taking control over more settlements, returning the Ukrainian flag and protection for our people.” Zelenskyy said.
Ukraine’s military said it also launched new attacks on Russian pontoon bridges used to bring supplies across the Dnieper River to Kherson, one of the largest Russian-occupied cities, and the adjacent region.
Ukrainian artillery and rocket strikes have left all regular bridges across the river unusable, the military’s southern command said.
More nuclear anxiety
Meanwhile, anxiety increased about Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, which was operating in emergency mode Friday for the fifth straight day due to the war. That prompted the head of the UN atomic watchdog to again call for the establishment of an immediate safety zone around the plant to prevent a nuclear accident.
The six-reactor Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant came under the control of Russian forces early in the war but is being operated by Ukrainian staff. The last power line connecting the plant to the Ukrainian electricity grid was cut Monday, leaving the plant without an outside source of electricity for its safety systems. It is receiving power from the only one of the six reactors that remains operational.
In other advances, the Ukrainian military said it took control of the village of Volokhiv Yar in Kharkiv and aimed to advance toward strategically valuable town of Kupiansk, which would cut off Russian forces from key supply routes.
Pro-Russian authorities in the Kupiansk district announced that civilians were being relocated toward the Russian-held region of Luhansk.
‘Real, demonstrable progress’
“The initial signs are positive and we see Ukraine making real, demonstrable progress in a deliberate way,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in Brussels, a day after visiting Kyiv.
“But this is likely to go on for some significant period of time,” he said.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who met with Blinken, said the war is “entering a critical phase.”
The gains “are modest and only the first successes of the counteroffensive of the Ukrainian army, but they are important both in terms of seizing the military initiative and raising the spirit of Ukrainian soldiers,” Mykola Sunhurovskyi, a military analyst at the Razumkov Center in Kyiv, told The Associated Press.
Shelling makes repairs impossible
Energoatom, the state nuclear operator, said Friday that repairs to the outside lines at the Zaporizhzhia plant are impossible because of the shelling and that operating without external power carries “the risk of violating radiation and fire safety standards.”
“Only the withdrawal of the Russians from the plant and the creation of a security zone around it can normalize the situation,” Petro Kotin, the head of Energoatom, told Ukrainian TV.
Rafael Grossi, the director of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency, said Friday there is little likelihood of re-establishing reliable offsite power lines to the plant.
Shelling has caused a complete blackout in <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/Enerhodar?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#Enerhodar</a> and compromised the safe operation of the nearby <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/Zaporizhzhya?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#Zaporizhzhya</a> NPP. This must stop & a Nuclear Safety & Security Protection Zone (NSSPZ) agreed immediately. An NPP can never be a pawn of war. <a href=”https://t.co/jMMf7jk12S”>https://t.co/jMMf7jk12S</a> <a href=”https://t.co/7djejJe80G”>pic.twitter.com/7djejJe80G</a>
“This is an unsustainable situation and is becoming increasingly precarious,” Grossi said, calling for an “immediate cessation of all shelling in the entire area” and the establishment of a nuclear safety and security protection zone.
Fighting continued Friday elsewhere in Ukraine.
Russian planes bombed the hospital in the town of Velika Pysarivka, on the border with Russia, said Dmytro Zhyvytskyi, governor of the Sumy region in northeastern Ukraine. He said the building was destroyed and there were an unknown number of casualties.
In the Donetsk region in the east — one of two that Russia declared to be sovereign states at the outset of the war — eight people were killed in the city of Bakhmut over the past day and the city is without water and electricity for the fourth straight day, said Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko.
Four people were killed in shelling in the Kharkiv region, two of them in Kharkiv city, Ukraine’s second-largest, according to regional Gov. Oleh Syniehubov.
Russia’s invasion caused over $97 billion US in direct damages to Ukraine through June 1, but it could cost nearly $350 billion to rebuild the country — more than the country’s $200 billion gross domestic product in 2021 — according to a report released Friday by the World Bank, Ukrainian government and European Commission.
It said Ukraine had suffered $252 billion US in losses through disruptions to its economic flows and production, as well as extra expenses linked to the war, while the displacement of one-third of all Ukrainians was expected to jack up its poverty rate to 21 per cent from just two per cent before the war.
The report said $105 billion US was needed in the short term to address urgent priorities, such as rebuilding thousands of damaged or destroyed schools and hospitals.