Russia strikes Ukraine housing; detains refugees at border

Kyiv, Ukraine (AP) – Russian missiles hit apartment buildings in the southern Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia on Thursday, killing at least seven people and missing at least five others, in a region illegally annexed to Moscow, a local official said.

Two strikes damaged more than 40 buildings hours after Ukraine’s president announced his military had retaken three more villages in another of the four regions annexed by RussiaMoscow’s latest twist on the battlefield.

Citing the number of casualties, Zaporizhzhia regional governor Oleksandr Starukh said more than 20 people were rescued from the multi-storey apartment buildings. Rescuers, who had earlier taken a 3-year-old girl to a hospital, continued to search the rubble early Friday. Starukh wrote on Telegram that Russian forces used S-300 missiles in the attacks.

Russia has reportedly converted the S-300 from its original use as a long-range anti-aircraft weapon to a ground attack missile due to a lack of other more suitable weapons.

“Absolute meanness. Absolutely evil,” said Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskky about the attacks in a video address ahead of the inaugural European Political Community summit in Prague. “There have already been thousands of manifestations of such evil. Unfortunately, there can be thousands more.”

Zaporizhia is one of the four regions of Ukraine that Russian President Vladimir Putin has claimed as Russian territory in violation of international laws. The region is home to a sprawling nuclear power plant under Russian occupation; the city of the same name remains under Ukrainian control.

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Grossi, announced on Thursday after meeting Zelenskyy in Kyiv that the UN Atomic Energy Agency would increase the number of inspectors at the Zaporizhia plant from two to four.

Grossi spoke to Ukrainian officials – and will later consult with Russian officials in Moscow – about efforts to establish a safe zone around the nuclear power plant. Grossi said mines appeared to have been laid around the facility, which had been damaged during the war and raised concerns about a possible radiation disaster. Zelenskyy said Russia had up to 500 fighters stationed at the plant.

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Putin signed a decree on Wednesday declaring that Russia would take over the six-reactor plant, a move Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry called a “null and void” criminal act.

Ukraine’s state nuclear operator Energoatom said it will continue operating the plant, whose last operational reactor was shut down on September 11 due to frequent outages of the external power supply needed to operate critical safety systems. Transmission lines to the plant have come under repeated fire, and Grossi on Thursday reported shelling in an industrial area near the plant’s access road.

Russian authorities on Wednesday arrested several hundred Ukrainians trying to flee Russian-held territories near the Russian-Estonian border outside the front lines, according to Ukrainian Human Rights Commissioner Dmytro Lubinets. Citing the Estonian Interior Ministry, he wrote on Facebook that Russian forces had taken the Ukrainians to an unknown destination in trucks.

Most of the detained Ukrainians fled through Russia and Crimea, trying to enter the European Union – Estonia is a member state – or find a way to return home, Lubinets wrote.

Russian has forced thousands of Ukrainians into “filtration camps” to determine their allegiance. Zelenskyy said on Thursday that more than 1.6 million Ukrainians had been deported to Russia.

The exact borders of Moscow-claimed areas in Ukraine remain unclear. Putin has vowed to defend Russia’s territory – including Ukraine’s annexed regions of Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhia – with any means at his military’s disposal, including nuclear weapons.

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Ukrainian troops occupy villages in Kherson in humiliating defeats on the battlefield for Russian forces that severely tarnished the image of a powerful Russian military. Ukrainian officials said Thursday they had reclaimed 400 square kilometers (154 sq mi) of territory in the Kherson region, including 29 settlements, since October 1.

Ukraine also pressed for a counteroffensive in the Donetsk region, which Moscow-backed separatists have partially controlled since 2014, but which remains controversial despite Putin’s proclaimed annexation.

In battered Khasiv Yar, a town in the Donetsk region 12 kilometers from heavy fighting, the human impact was clear as retirees waited to collect their pension checks at a post office.

“We hope for the victory of the Ukrainian army,” said Vera Ivanovna, 81, a retired English and German teacher, as the artillery thunder echoed. “We lived in independent Ukraine as you live in America. We also want to live like you live.”

At least two Russian attacks have hit Chasiv Yar in recent days, with one person reportedly buried under the rubble of a dormitory. More than 40 people were killed in July when Russian missiles hit an apartment building.

Russia said it captured the village of Zaitsevo in the Donetsk region. The governor of the neighboring Luhansk region said Ukrainian troops recaptured the village of Hrekivka. None of the battlefield reports could be independently confirmed.

The US government, meanwhile, on Thursday sent to Kyiv its head of international development, the top American official to visit Ukraine since Russia illegally annexed the four regions. US Agency for International Development director Samantha Power met with government officials and residents and said the US would allocate an additional $55 million to repair heating pipes and other equipment.

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USAID said the United States had shipped $9.89 billion in aid to Ukraine since February. A spending bill signed into law by US President Joe Biden last week promises an additional $12.3 billion for Ukraine’s military and public service needs.

“This war will be won on the battlefield, but it will also be won in Ukraine’s ongoing efforts to strengthen its democracy and economy,” Power told reporters at Kiev Train Station.

She said Ukraine’s success as a democratic country with a modern economy that fights corruption has angered Putin.

The European Union on Thursday froze the assets of another 37 people and entities linked to Russia’s war in Ukraine, bringing the total number of targets on the EU’s blacklist to 1,351. The newly sanctioned officials included officials involved in last week’s illegal Russian annexations and mock referendums. The latest sanctions also expand trade bans against Russia and prepare a price cap for Russian oil.

At the United Nations in New York next week, Russia called for a secret vote on a Western-backed resolution that would condemn Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s four regions and require Moscow to reverse its actions. Russia appears to be hoping for more support from the 193 nations in the General Assembly if their votes are not made public.

Russia on September 30 vetoed a legally binding Security Council resolution condemning referendums on annexation in Ukraine’s four regions as illegal. The resolutions of the general meeting are not legally binding.

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Associated Press writers Hanna Arhirova in Ukraine and Edith M. Lederer from the United Nations contributed to this report.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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