KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian airstrikes have targeted Ukraine’s energy facilities again on Thursday as the first snow of the season fell in Kiev, a harbinger of trouble to come if Moscow’s missiles continue to take out power and gas plants as winter descends.
Separately, the United Nations announced the extension of an agreement to ensure grain and fertilizer exports from Ukraine that have been disrupted by the war. The deal was set to expire soon, renewing fears of a global food crisis if exports were blocked by one of the world’s largest grain producers.
Even as all parties agreed to extend the grain agreement, Thursday air raid sirens across Ukraine. At least seven people were killed and more than two dozen others injured in the drone and missile strikes, including one that hit a residential building, authorities said.
Kremlin forces have suffered a series of setbacks on the ground, the latest being the loss of the southern city of Kherson.. In the face of these defeats, Russia has increasingly resorted to airstrikes targeting energy infrastructure and other civilian targets in parts of Ukraine it does not hold.
Russia on Tuesday unleashed a nationwide bombardment of more than 100 missiles and drones that knocked out power. to 10 million people in Ukraine – strikes described by Ukraine’s Energy Minister as the biggest assault yet on the country’s battered power grid in nearly nine months of war.
It also resulted in a missile landing in Poland, killing two people. Authorities are still trying to determine where the missile is coming from, with early indications pointing to a Ukrainian air defense system seeking to counter Russian bombing.
Polish President Andrzej Duda visited the site where the missile landed on Thursday and expressed sympathy for Ukraine’s situation. “It is a very difficult situation for them and there are great emotions, there is also great stress,” said Duda.
The renewed bombings come as many Ukrainians face the inconvenience of regular blackouts and heating blackouts.. A light snowfall dusted the capital on Thursday, where temperatures dropped below freezing. Kiev’s military administration said air defense shot down four Iranian-made cruise missiles and five explosive drones.
In eastern Ukraine, Russia “launched a massive attack on gas production infrastructure,” said the head of state energy company Naftogaz, Oleksiy Chernishov. He did not elaborate.
Russian strikes also hit the central city of Dnipro and Ukraine’s southern Odesa region for the first time in weeks and hit critical infrastructure in the northeastern Kharkiv region near Izium, injuring three workers .
The head of Ukraine’s presidential office, Andriy Yermak, called the strikes on energy targets “naive tactics of cowardly losers.”
“Ukraine has already withstood extremely difficult blows from the enemy, which did not lead to the results hoped for by Russian cowards,” Yermak wrote on Telegram on Thursday.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his late-night video that 10 million people in Ukraine were without power on Thursday, mostly in the regions of Kyiv, Odesa, Sumy and Vinnytsia. Ukraine had a pre-war population of about 40 million.
Zelenskyy previously posted on Telegram a video he said was of one of the explosions in Dnipro. Footage from a vehicle’s dashboard camera showed a fiery explosion engulfing a rainy road.
“This is another confirmation from Dnipro of how terrorists want peace,” Zelenskyy wrote, referring to Kremlin forces. “The peaceful city and the desire of the people to live their usual lives. Go to work, to their business. A missile attack!”
Valentyn Reznichenko, governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region, said a large fire broke out in Dnipro after the attacks there hit an industrial target. The attack injured at least 23 people, Reznichenko said.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said the strikes in Dnipropetrovsk hit a factory that produces military missile engines.
In the Odesa region, an infrastructure target was hit, Governor Maksym Marchenko said on Telegram, warning about the threat of a “massive missile barrage on the entire territory of Ukraine.”
Elsewhere, a Russian strike that hit a residential building killed at least seven people overnight in Vilniansk in the southern Zaporizhzhia region. Rescuers combed the area Thursday, searching for more victims.
Officials in Poltava and Kharkiv regions in northeastern Ukraine and Khmelnytskyi and Rivne regions in the west urged residents to stay in bomb shelters.
The UN’s nuclear watchdog warned that repeated strikes on Ukraine’s power grid were putting the country’s nuclear power plants at risk. Reactors need power for cooling and other essential safety functionsand their emergency generators can only provide backup electricity for a limited period of time.
A nuclear power plant in Khmelnytskyi was cut off from the electricity grid on Tuesday, forcing it to temporarily rely on diesel generators and shut down its two reactors, the International Atomic Energy Agency said. Another plant in Rivne disconnected one of its four reactors after partially losing connection to Ukraine’s external grid.
IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi said that the loss of power at the Khmelnytskyi plant “clearly demonstrates that the nuclear safety and security situation in Ukraine may suddenly worsen, increasing the risk of a nuclear emergency.”
Grossi also expressed serious concerns about the potential for a radiation leak at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, The largest in Europe, which was held by Russian forces for most of the war.
The impact of the war has been felt far beyond Ukraine, in global food and energy markets. Ukraine and Russia are among the largest exporters of grain in the world, and Russia is also a significant producer of fertilizer.
There have been concerns in recent days about the fate of the agreement negotiated by the UN and Turkey that created a safe transport corridor in the Black Sea to deal with the war disruptions of grain exports. The agreement was due to expire on Saturday, but UN Secretary-General António Guterres said it had been extended for 120 days.
In addition to ensuring the safe passage of Ukrainian exports, Guterres said the United Nations is also “fully committed” to removing obstacles that have prevented the export of food and fertilizers from Russia.
The Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed the extension, and Zelenskyy called it “a key decision in the global fight against the food crisis.”
Associated Press writers Jamey Keaten in Geneva and Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, contributed to this report.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine