Kyiv, Ukraine — Russia focused its attacks on Friday in its increasingly troubled invasion of Ukraine on areas it illegally annexed as the death toll in previous missile strikes on apartment buildings in the southern city from Zaporizhzhia increased to 12.
In a rebuke to Russian President Vladimir Putin and his conduct of the worst armed conflict in Europe since World War II, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to human rights organizations in his country and Ukraine, as well as an activist imprisoned in Russia’s ally Belarus.
Berit Reiss-Andersen, chair of the committee, said the honor went to “three outstanding defenders of human rights, democracy and peaceful coexistence”.
This week Putin illegally claimed four regions of Ukraine as Russian territory, including the Zaporizhzhia region which is home to Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, whose reactors were shut down last month.
Fighting near the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant alarmed the UN’s atomic energy watchdog, which on Friday doubled to four the number of its inspectors monitoring safeguards at the plant. An accident there could release 10 times more life-threatening radiation than the world’s worst nuclear disaster at Chernobyl in Ukraine 36 years ago, Ukraine’s Environmental Protection Minister Ruslan Strilets said on Friday.
“The situation with the occupation, bombing and operation of the Chernobyl and Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plants by Russian troops has consequences that will have a global character,” Strilets told The Associated Press.
The city of Zaporizhzhia is located 53 kilometers (33 miles) from the nuclear power plant as the crow flies and remains under Ukrainian control. To cement Russia’s claim to the area, Russian forces bombarded the city with S-300 missiles on Thursday, and more attacks were reported on Friday.
Ukrainian authorities said the death toll in the strikes on apartment buildings rose to 12 on Friday, while 12 other people injured in the shelling remained in hospital.
Missiles also hit the city overnight, injuring one person, Zaporizhzhia Governor Oleksandr Starukh said. Russia also used Iranian-made Shahed-136 drones for the first time and damaged two infrastructure, he said.
As its military loses ground to a Ukrainian counteroffensive in the south and east, Russia has deployed Iranian-made unmanned disposable drones that are cheaper and less sophisticated than missiles, but can still cause damage. ground targets.
The Washington-based Institute for the Study of Warfare said Russia’s use of explosive-packed drones was unlikely to affect the course of the war.
“They used many drones against civilian targets in rear areas, probably hoping to generate non-linear effects through terror. Such efforts are not successful,” the think tank analysts wrote.
In other areas annexed to Moscow, the Russian Defense Ministry said on Friday that its forces had repelled Ukrainian advances near the town of Lyman and retaken three villages elsewhere in the eastern Donetsk region. The ministry also claimed that Russian forces had prevented Ukrainian troops from advancing on several villages in the southern Kherson region.
Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address on Friday that this week alone his army had recaptured 776 square kilometers (300 square miles) of territory in the east and 29 settlements, including six in the Luhansk region, that Putin has annexed. In total, Ukrainian forces have liberated 2,434 square kilometers (940 square miles) of land and 96 settlements since its counteroffensive began, he said.
In Ukraine’s Dnipropetrovsk region, Russian troops shelled the town of Nikopol overnight, killing one person, injuring another and damaging buildings, gas pipelines and electrical systems, the region’s governor reported. Nikopol sits along the Dnieper River across from Russian-held territory near the nuclear power plant. The city has been constantly bombarded for weeks.
Russia’s trail of devastation and death in areas where its troops have retreated became clearer on Friday. A report by Ukraine’s First Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs, Yevhen Yenin, revealed that 530 bodies of civilians have been found in the Kharkiv region of northeastern Ukraine since September 7.
Residents killed during the Russian occupation included 257 men, 225 women and 19 children, including 29 unidentified people, Yenin said. Most of the bodies were found in a previously disclosed mass grave in the city of Izium.
According to Yenin, the bodies found bore signs of gunshots, explosions and torture. Some people had ropes around their necks, their hands tied behind their backs, gunshot wounds to their knees and broken ribs.
Authorities have identified 22 torture sites in parts of the Kharkiv region that Ukrainian forces recently liberated, said Serhiy Bolvinov, a regional police official.
Meanwhile, some Russian military equipment and weapons fall into the hands of the Ukrainian army. The British Ministry of Defense said on Friday that Ukrainian forces had captured at least 440 tanks and around 650 armored vehicles since the February 24 Russian invasion.
“The failure of Russian crews to destroy intact equipment before withdrawing or surrendering highlights their poor state of training and low level of combat discipline,” the British ministry said. “With Russian formations under heavy pressure in several sectors and troops increasingly demoralized, Russia is likely to continue to lose heavy weapons.”
Putin last month ordered a partial mobilization of Russian army reservists to bolster manpower on the front lines in Ukraine. However, mistakes hampered the military call, and tens of thousands of men fled Russia, unwilling to fight Putin’s war.
This left Russia desperate for troop reinforcements. Ukraine’s military said on Friday that 500 former criminals have been mobilized to bolster Russian ranks in the eastern region of Donetsk, where Ukrainian forces have retaken territory. Officers from law enforcement command the new units, the army said.
Russian state news agency Tass reported on Friday that a court in the Russian city of Penza had dismissed the first case against a Russian man called up to serve but who refused. Lawyers for the 32-year-old man had argued that the law under which he was charged only applied to draft resisters, not those subject to partial mobilization.
In another sign of trouble, there were reports of poor training and few supplies for new Russian troops. At least two Russian cities – Saint Petersburg and Nizhny Novgorod – announced on Friday that they were canceling their Russian New Year and Christmas celebrations and redirecting that money to buy supplies for Russian troops.
Under mounting pressure from his own supporters as well as critics, Putin continued to reshuffle the leadership of his army, placing a new commander in Russia’s Eastern Military District.
Associated Press writer Hanna Arhirova in Ukraine contributed to this report.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine