Ukraine’s Large Counteroffensive Appears To Be Imminent
Ukraine’s counterattack against Russia is fast approaching, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleskii Reznikov said Friday. At an online news briefing, Reznikov noted that Ukraine forces are “to a high percentage ready” to launch their campaign and modern weaponry would serve as an “iron fist.”
Using hundreds of tanks and armored vehicles sent by the West, Kyiv is preparing its counteroffensive aiming at driving Russian forces out of occupied Ukrainian territories.
Reznikov made the comments after large-scale Russian airstrikes on cities across Ukraine overnight killed at least 23 civilians while they slept.
In the central Ukrainian town of Uman, firefighters battled a raging blaze at a residential apartment building’s upper floor that had been struck by a Russian missile. Officials said at least 19 civilians were killed there, including several children.
“No one is left,” said Serhii Lubivskyi, 58, who survived inside a flat on the seventh floor, rescued by firefighters from the balcony, where he escaped with his wife after the explosion blocked their front door, Reuters reports.
In a tweet, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs condemned Russia’s airstrikes on civilians and civilian infrastructure. “It is just inexcusable that in places like Uman, far from the front line, civilians were killed while sleeping at their homes. This must stop,” Matthew Hollingworth, Humanitarian Coordinator wrote.
A mother and her toddler daughter were killed in the eastern city of Dnipro. No fatalities were reported in Kyiv.
Moscow claimed its target was Ukrainian reserve troops that it struck successfully, preventing them from reaching the front lines. Russia supplied no evidence to support this, Reuters reports.
After Friday’s missile strikes, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted, “The way to peace is to kick Russia out of Ukraine.”
Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant
Russia may be preparing to connect the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, to the power grid of Russian-controlled territory. An International Atomic Energy Agency team of experts monitoring the plant’s operations said Friday, Russian forces and the Russian nuclear company Rosatom ordered the skeleton crew there to link the plant’s only working line “to the currently Russian-controlled electrical grid, to the south of the ZNPP site.”
This line is the only source of external power to the plant, which it needs to keep cooling the fuel in its six reactors, even though they are shut down. Failing to cool that fuel could lead to a potentially catastrophic nuclear meltdown, the IAEA said.
In a statement Friday, IAEA Director General Mariano Grossi assessed that the “increased military presence and activity in the region” underscores the need to safeguard the plant from continuous shelling and landmine explosions in the area.
A Russian mine exploded near the generator room of the nuclear plant, Ukraine’s state operator Energoatom said Thursday. “According to sources, an explosion happened near the engine room of the fourth [reactor] power unit,” Energoatom said in a statement.
It also said Russian troops, who last year seized control of Ukraine’s largest nuclear complex, told workers that it was “their own mine that detonated,” Reuters reports.
Meanwhile, the threat of Russian airstrikes continues across Ukraine with officials warning residents to take shelter as soon as they hear the sirens.
“Do not ignore the alerts,” Andriy Yermak, head of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office, said on the Telegram messaging app hours after deadly Russian missile strikes earlier Friday.
The attacks came just days after Zelenskyy spoke by phone with Chinese President Xi Jinping about finding a solution to the war. The Chinese leader said China would dispatch a peace envoy to Ukraine.
Russia and genocide
On Thursday, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted a resolution recognizing that Russia’s deportation of Ukrainian children has evidence of genocide.
“This decision,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his daily address, “will significantly help our global efforts to bring Russia and its officials, including the head of the terrorist state, to justice for genocide and genocidal policies against Ukraine.”
Also Thursday, Ukraine’s Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal, said he asked Pope Francis, during a private audience, for his help with returning Ukrainian children to Ukraine who have been “detained, arrested, and criminally deported to Russia.”
The International Criminal Court has issued arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russia’s commissioner for children’s rights, Maria Lvova-Belova, for their alleged involvement in the deportation of children from occupied areas of Ukraine to Russia.