Kyiv says rocket attacks threaten nuclear sites and decries Macron appeal

French president says Moscow’s invasion an ‘historic’ mistake but ‘we must not humiliate Russia’

Russian rockets hit Kyiv for the first time in weeks as Ukrainian forces fought back in a fiercely contested eastern city and the country’s officials poured scorn on French assertions that a deal to end the war must not “humiliate” Moscow.

Ukraine said four long-range Russian missiles struck railway repair facilities in Kyiv early on Sunday, hitting what Russia called a storage area for armoured vehicles including “T-72 tanks delivered by eastern European countries”.

Oleksandr Kamyshin, chief executive of Ukraine’s rail operator, said the plant contained only wagons for transporting grain and other cargo, and he accused Russia of targeting his country’s “economy and civilian population. They want to prevent us from having the opportunity to export Ukrainian products to the West.”

Ukraine’s nuclear energy operator, Energoatom, said one of the cruise missiles fired on Kyiv “flew critically low” over the country’s second-biggest atomic power plant.

“Currently, Russia continues to pose a threat to the nuclear safety of Ukrainian nuclear power plants and threatens the world with a new nuclear catastrophe. (They) still do not understand that even the smallest fragment of a missile that may hit a functioning power unit could lead to a nuclear catastrophe and radiation leak,” the firm said.

Russia’s military was pushed back from the outskirts of Kyiv in early April, but can still strike the capital and all other parts of Ukraine with long-range missiles, and frequently claims that such rocket attacks are destroying arms delivered by Ukraine’s Nato allies.

Weapons deliveries

The US pledged this week to send multi-launch rocket systems to Ukraine with a range and accuracy far beyond what Kyiv currently possesses, to help it drive back Russian troops on the plains of the eastern Donbas region, where fighting is now most intense.

“All this fuss around additional deliveries of weapons, in my opinion, has only one aim: to drag out the armed conflict as much as possible,” Russian president Vladimir Putin said on Sunday, adding that the systems were “nothing new” and would “in essence change nothing”.

He also warned, however, that if the US gave Ukraine longer-range ammunition for the new launchers, then Russia would “draw appropriate conclusions and use our own weapons, of which we have plenty, to strike targets that we have not yet hit”.

Moscow officials have warned that “decision-making centres” in Kyiv would be targeted if Ukraine attacked Russian territory.

More than three months after the Kremlin launched an all-out invasion that has killed thousands of people and displaced about 14 million, it is now trying to seize all of the Donbas area, which comprises the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine.

The current epicentre of fighting is Severodonetsk, an industrial city of 100,000 people before all-out war began on February 24th, where Ukraine says its forces are now counterattacking after being driven back amid heavy street fighting last week.

“The Russians controlled 70 per cent of Severodonetsk, but in two days they have been pushed back, and (now) the city is divided in half,” Luhansk governor Serhiy Haidai said on Sunday.

In an interview published on Saturday, French president Emmanuel Macron called Russia’s invasion a “historic” mistake but argued that “we must not humiliate Russia, so that the day when the fighting stops we can build an exit ramp through diplomatic means”.

Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba echoed the response of several senior Kyiv officials: “Calls to avoid humiliation of Russia can only humiliate France and every other country that would call for it,” he tweeted. “Because it is Russia that humiliates itself. We all better focus on how to put Russia in its place. This will bring peace and save lives.”

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe