By Ken Bredemeier
Russia launched waves of airstrikes on Ukraine Tuesday, targeting 10 regions, including the capital of Kyiv, in a military rebuke to Ukrainians reveling in one of their biggest wartime successes, last week’s takeover of the key southern city of Kherson.
The airstrikes rocked Ukraine from east to west, hitting energy facilities and other infrastructure, as well as residential buildings in Kyiv, where one death was reported.
A video in Kyiv, published by a presidential aide, showed a five-story building, apparently a residential structure, on fire. Mayor Vitali Klitschko said three residential buildings were hit but that air defense units shot down other missiles.
A senior Ukrainian official, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, characterized the situation as “critical” and urged people to cut back on their power usage and “hang in there.” Power provider DTEK announced emergency blackouts in Kyiv and authorities took similar steps elsewhere, too.
Air raid alerts sounded throughout the country. The barrage of nearly 100 strikes — including with missiles — followed days of euphoria in Ukraine after the Russian retreat from Kherson and the Ukrainian takeover of the regional capital that Moscow’s forces had captured early in the nearly nine-month war.
In Bali, Indonesia, at the meeting of the leaders of the Group of 20 largest industrialized countries, White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan condemned the Russian airstrikes.
“It is not lost on us that, as world leaders meet at the G-20 in Bali to discuss the issues of significant importance to the lives and livelihoods of people around the world, Russia again threatens those lives and destroys Ukraine’s critical infrastructure. These Russian strikes will serve to only deepen the concerns among the G‑20 about the destabilizing impact of (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s war,” said Sullivan in a statement. “We will stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes.”
With its battlefield defeats, Russia more and more has resorted to long-range aerial attacks on Ukraine’s power grid as winter approaches, believing it to be a demoralizing psychological weapon to leave Ukrainians in the cold and dark.
Ukrainian officials reported strikes Tuesday in Lviv, Zhytomyr, Khmelnytskyi and Rivne in the west, and Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city in the northeast. Several missiles also hit Kryvyi Rih, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s native city, according to its mayor, Oleksandr Vilkul.
Ukrainian officials were working frantically to restore water and power in Kherson and begin to investigate alleged Russian abuses there and in surrounding communities.
Matilda Bogner, the head of the United Nations human rights office’s monitoring mission in Ukraine, on Tuesday decried a “dire humanitarian situation” in Kherson. She said her teams are trying to verify allegations of nearly 80 cases of enforced disappearances and arbitrary detention and “understand whether the scale is in fact larger than what we have documented already.”
Zelenskyy on Tuesday said a “real and complete cessation of hostilities” will result if Russia withdraws all its troops from Ukraine and restores Ukrainian control to his country’s territory along the border with Russia.
Speaking virtually to the world leaders at the G-20 summit, Zelenskyy said delays in bringing an end to the conflict mean the deaths of more Ukrainians and more threats to the world.
“I am convinced now is the time when the Russian destructive war must and can be stopped,” Zelenskyy said.
The Ukrainian leader’s comments followed a visit Monday to Kherson where he told Ukrainian troops that the country is “ready for peace.”
U.S. President Joe Biden, speaking Monday at a news conference in Indonesia, called the Ukrainian takeover of Kherson “a significant victory” for the government in Kyiv.
“I can do nothing but applaud the courage, determination and capacity of the Ukrainian people and Ukrainian military,” Biden said. “They have been amazing.”
Biden said the Western allies supporting Ukraine would not force a settlement on Ukraine to end the war. He said there would be “nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine” agreeing to it.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined Monday to comment on Zelenskyy’s visit to Kherson but said, “This territory is part of the Russian Federation.”
Russia illegally annexed the region last month, along with three other territories in Ukraine.
Zelenskyy’s visit came as the heads of U.S. and Russian intelligence met Monday in Turkey in the highest level of face-to-face talks acknowledged between the two countries since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
A White House official said CIA Director Bill Burns met with Russian intelligence chief Sergei Naryshkin to warn of consequences if Russia were to deploy a nuclear weapon in Ukraine.
The official, who spoke to reporters on the condition of anonymity, said the talks did not involve any discussion about a settlement to the war.
Russia confirmed the meeting took place but declined to give details.
In other developments Monday, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution calling for Russia to be responsible for providing reparations to Ukraine. The vote was 94-14 with 73 abstentions.
While the measure passed, it garnered less support than an October resolution condemning Russia’s “attempted illegal annexation” of four Ukrainian regions. That measure passed 143-5 with 35 abstentions.
At The Hague, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters Russia’s military capability should not be underestimated, despite Ukraine’s recent successes.
“The coming months will be difficult. Putin’s aim is to leave Ukraine cold and dark this winter. So, we must stay the course,” he said during a joint news conference with Dutch government officials.
A senior U.S. military official told reporters Monday on the condition of anonymity that the Russian forces who were in Kherson have withdrawn to the eastern side of the Dnipro River and are strengthening their defensive lines there.
“It is our assessment right now that their intent would be to try to hold on to that territory,” the official said.
The official said Ukraine’s takeover of Kherson is “very significant” strategically, but “since the Russians don’t appear inclined to depart the rest of occupied Ukraine, there’s undoubtedly still tough fighting ahead.”
Despite withdrawing from the city of Kherson, Russia still controls about 70% of the wider Kherson region, The Associated Press reported.
The British defense ministry said Tuesday that after leaving Kherson, the Russian military has made the Azov Sea port of Henichesk a temporary capital of the occupied region and will likely redeploy military command units there.