Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy traveled Tuesday near the front line of fighting with Russia in the eastern Donetsk region and pledged to push all of Moscow’s forces out of his country.
On Ukraine’s Armed Forces Day, Zelenskyy said in a video address to troops from the Ukrainian stronghold of Sloviansk, “Everyone sees your strength and your skill. … I’m grateful to your parents. They raised real heroes.”
Russia reported that strategic sites inside the country were hit by drone attacks for a second day, although Ukraine did not acknowledge carrying out the strikes.
In one incident, a fire broke out at an airport in Russia’s southern Kursk region that borders Ukraine after a drone hit the facility, the region’s governor said, while Russian independent media reported that drones hit an industrial plant 80 kilometers from the Ukrainian border.
Russian officials did not immediately blame Ukraine for the latest shelling; but the new attacks were carried out a day after Moscow blamed Kyiv for unprecedented, similar strikes on two air bases deep inside Russia.
The attacks on the Engels air base in the Saratov region on the Volga River and the Dyagilevo air base in the Ryazan region in western Russia, more than 500 kilometers from the Ukraine border, were some of the most brazen inside Russia during President Vladimir Putin’s 10-month war on Ukraine. They raise questions about the effectiveness of Russia’s air defense system.
Russian troops responded with another wave of missile strikes on Ukrainian territory that struck homes and buildings and killed civilians.
Ukrainian officials have not formally confirmed carrying out the drone attacks, but presidential adviser Mikhail Podolyak taunted Moscow in comments on Twitter.
“If something is launched into other countries’ airspace, sooner or later unknown flying objects will return to the point of departure,” Podolyak wrote. “The Earth is round.”
Russia’s defense ministry said three Russian servicemen were killed and four others wounded by debris in the attacks Monday, and that two aircraft were slightly damaged.
The Engels base hosts Tu-95 and Tu-160 nuclear-capable strategic bombers that have been involved in strikes on Ukraine. Dyagilevo houses tanker aircraft used for in-flight refueling.
In its daily intelligence update on the war in Ukraine, Britain’s defense ministry said Russia was likely to consider the base attacks as “some of the most strategically significant failures of force protection since its invasion of Ukraine.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Russian authorities will “take the necessary measures” to enhance protection of key facilities in view of the attacks.
Peskov Tuesday told reporters, “The Ukrainian regime’s course for continuation of such terror attacks poses a threat.”
The spokesman reaffirmed that Russia sees no prospects for peace talks now, adding, “The Russian Federation must achieve its stated goals.”
Russia continued its intense attacks on Ukrainian territory, shelling towns overnight near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant that left more than 9,000 homes without running water, local Ukrainian officials said.
The towns lie across the Dnieper River from the nuclear plant, which Russian forces seized in the early stages of the war. Russia and Ukraine have for months accused each other of shelling at and around the plant.
Ukraine said it fought off a new round of Russian attacks in the east while technicians raced to restore electricity following Moscow’s latest wave of missile strikes that caused power disruptions across the country amid dropping temperatures.
Ukrainian officials warned that critical energy infrastructure continues to be threatened by further Russian strikes and that there would be emergency blackouts once again in several regions.
About half the region surrounding Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, will remain without electricity in the coming days after Russian missile strikes on power facilities, the Kyiv regional governor said.
The Monday attacks, which plunged parts of Ukraine back into freezing darkness, were the latest in weeks of attacks that hit critical energy infrastructure. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday said the attacks amounted to Russian weaponization of winter to inflict pain on Ukrainians.
At the U.N. Security Council Tuesday, U.N. Humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said the attacks on energy infrastructure are “adding another dangerous dimension” to the already severe humanitarian crisis.
“In Ukraine today, the ability of civilians to survive is under attack,” he told diplomats.
“International humanitarian law speaks for itself: objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population must be protected,” he added. “Constant care must be taken to spare civilians and civilian objects throughout all military operations.”
Russia’s envoy dismissed criticism, saying his country’s miliary is carrying out precision strikes against Ukrainian infrastructure used for military supplies, logistics and communications.
“Civilian infrastructure in Ukrainian towns would not suffer if they had not placed Ukrainian air defense systems in residential areas,” Vassily Nebenzia said.
Reacting to the missile attacks, Ukraine’s ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya, urged allies to further strengthen the country’s air and missile defense capacities.