Russian missiles killed at least three civilians in an apartment block in southeastern Ukraine, as a Kremlin-appointed official in occupied territory lambasted the performance of Moscow’s generals and suggested its defence minister should “shoot himself”.
Ukrainian officials said the country’s military was continuing to reclaim territory in the east and southeast, and denounced Russia’s bid to take full ownership and operational control of Europe’s biggest nuclear power station in an occupied part of Zaporizhzhia region.
At least three people died and 12 were hurt early on Thursday when Russian rockets hit a residential district in the city of Zaporizhzhia, which is still under Kyiv’s control.
The city is about 50km north of Enerhodar, site of the six reactors of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station, which is being run by Ukrainian technicians overseen by Russian troops who occupied the area in March.
Russian president Vladimir Putin ordered his government this week to take over the facility, where power lines and radiation detectors have been damaged in shelling that Moscow and Kyiv blame on each other’s forces.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy urged the world on Thursday to respond to what he called Russia’s “nuclear blackmail” over the site, and Kyiv’s foreign ministry said Mr Putin’s decree was “null and void” and “further increases risks and threats in the sphere of nuclear security caused by Russian occupation” of the power station.
Rafael Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, met Mr Zelenskiy in Kyiv and said he would next travel to Moscow, as he tries to secure agreement for the creation of a “security zone” around the plant, which would involve the withdrawal of Russian military vehicles and troops from the site and put an end to the shelling.
Kyiv has expressed broad support for the move, but Moscow says it is “not realistic”, and insists that its forces are actually protecting the facility from Ukrainian attack.
Russia has formally claimed sovereignty over the Zaporizhzhia, Kherson, Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine, despite being in breach of international law, not having control of all of any of these areas, and being in retreat on several stretches of the frontline.
Mr Putin insisted that the regions will be “stabilised”, but expressions of anger at Russia’s repeated setbacks in Ukraine are increasing, in a clear signal of disquiet in a country where public criticism of top political and military figures is extremely rare and risky.
“Many are saying that if they were the defence minister who had allowed such a state of affairs, they would, as officers, shoot themselves,” said Kirill Stremousov, the Russian-installed deputy head of occupied Kherson region, in a slight aimed at Moscow’s defence chief Sergei Shoigu, a longtime ally of Mr Putin who is under growing pressure.
“The ministry of defence does not consist only of ministers, generals, corrupt looters and other various scum, but all those heroes who gave their lives to defend Russia,” Mr Stremousov added, in comments that would be highly perilous for him to voice unless pre-approved by someone with far more influence in Russian power structures than he possesses.