Zelensky says he is in control of some 30 settlements in the area recaptured from Russian troops
Ukrainian forces on Friday claimed a new success in their counteroffensive against Russian forces in the east of the country, seizing control of a sizeable town and moving towards a major transport hub. The top US diplomat and NATO chief hailed progress but warned the war was likely to drag on for months.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky praised the military for its advances in the east, saying in a late-night video address that Ukrainian troops had recaptured more than 30 settlements in the Kharkiv region since the start of the counteroffensive there this week.
“We are gradually taking control of more settlements, returning the Ukrainian flag and protection to our people,” Zelensky said.
The Ukrainian military said it also launched new attacks on Russian pontoon bridges used to bring supplies across the Dnieper River to Kherson, one of the largest Russian-occupied cities, and the surrounding region. Ukrainian artillery and rocket attacks have rendered all regular bridges across the river useless, the southern military command said.
Concerns are growing over Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, which was put into emergency mode on Friday for the fifth day in a row because of the war. That prompted the head of the UN atomic watchdog to call for the establishment of an immediate security zone around the plant to prevent a nuclear accident.
The six-reactor Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant came under the control of Russian forces at the beginning of the war, but is being operated by Ukrainian personnel. The plant and its surroundings have been hit repeatedly by bombing attacks that Russia and Ukraine blame on each other. The last power line connecting the plant to the Ukrainian power grid was cut on Monday, leaving the plant without an external source of electricity. It receives power for its own safety systems from the only reactor – out of a total of six – that is still working.
In other developments, the Ukrainian military said it had seized control of the village of Volokhiv Yar in the Kharkiv region and intended to advance on the highly strategic city of Kupiansk, which would cut off Russian forces from the main supply routes.
Pro-Russian authorities in the Kupiansk district announced that civilians were being evacuated to the Russian-controlled Luhansk region.
“The initial signs are positive and we see that Ukraine is deliberately making real and demonstrable progress,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in Brussels, a day after visiting kyiv.
“But this is likely to go on for a significant period of time,” he said. “There are a large number of Russian forces in Ukraine and unfortunately, tragically and horribly, President (Vladimir) Putin has shown that he is going to bring a lot of people into this at a huge cost to Russia.”
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who met with Blinken, said the war is “entering a critical phase.”
The gains “are modest and are only the first successes of the Ukrainian army’s counteroffensive, but they are important both for seizing the military initiative and raising the spirits of Ukrainian soldiers,” Mykola Sunhurovskyi, a military analyst at the Center for Defense, told The Associated Press. Razumkov of kyiv.
Energoatom, Ukraine’s state nuclear operator, said on Friday that repairs to external power lines at the Zaporizhzhia plant are impossible due to bombing and that operating the plant in what is called an “island” state entails “the risk of violating radiation and fire safety regulations.”
“Only the withdrawal of the Russians from the plant and the creation of a security zone around it can normalize the situation at the Zaporizhzhia NPP. Only then will the world be able to breathe,” Petro Kotin, head of Energoatom, told Ukrainian television.
Earlier, Kotin told The Associated Press that the plant’s only operating reactor “could shut down completely” at any time, and therefore the only source of power would be a diesel generator.
There are 20 generators on site and enough diesel for 10 days. After that, some 200 tons of diesel per day would be needed for the generators, something that, according to him, is “impossible” to achieve while the plant is occupied by Russian forces.
Rafael Mariano Grossi, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said on Friday there was little chance of restoring reliable power lines outside the plant.
“This is an unsustainable and increasingly precarious situation,” said Grossi, who called for the “immediate cessation of all bombing in the entire area” and the establishment of a nuclear protection and safety zone.
“This is the only way to guarantee that we do not face a nuclear accident,” he said.
Fighting continued on Friday elsewhere in Ukraine.
Russian planes bombed the hospital in the city of Velika Pysarivka, on the border with Russia, said Dmytro Zhyvytskyi, governor of the Sumy region. He said the building was destroyed and there were an unknown number of casualties.
Ukraine claimed this week to have regained control of more than 20 settlements in the Kharkiv region, including the small town of Balakliya. Social media posts showed residents of Balakliya crying and smiling and hugging Ukrainian soldiers.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Friday declined to comment on the alleged reconquest of Balakliya and referred all questions to the Russian Defense Ministry.
But Vitaly Ganchev, the Russian-installed official in the Kharkiv region, confirmed on Friday that “Balakliya is indeed not under our control.” Ganchev said “heavy fighting” was continuing in the city.
Helicopters and fighter jets flew over the rolling plains of the Donetsk region, with the planes heading towards Izium, near where Ukrainian forces have been carrying out a counteroffensive in the Kharkiv region.