Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskiy has confirmed the country’s counteroffensive against Russian forces on Ukrainian territory has begun, but reportedly would not say what stage the offensive was at.
Mr Zelenskiy shrugged and raised his eyebrows dismissively at a press conference in Kyiv when asked to respond after Russian president Vladimir Putin said on Friday that Kyiv forces had begun their much-vaunted counteroffensive.
Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau visited Kyiv on Saturday and said his country would take part in a multinational effort to train Ukrainian fighter pilots and announced 500 million Canadian dollars (€347 million) worth of military aid for Kyiv.
Mr Trudeau paid his respects at a memorial site in central Kyiv to Ukrainian soldiers who have been killed fighting pro-Russian forces since 2014.
Nato member Canada, which has one of the world’s largest Ukrainian diasporas, has supplied military and financial assistance to Ukraine since the invasion launched by Russia in February 2022.
Russia fired missiles and drones at targets across Ukraine in the early hours of Saturday, killing three civilians in the Black Sea city of Odesa and striking a military air field in the central Poltava region, Kyiv authorities said.
The attacks, in which a 29-year-old was also killed in the northeast Kharkiv region according to officials, were the latest in a spate of overnight strikes that Russia has intensified as Kyiv sets its sights on a major counteroffensive.
The air force said the attacks involved eight ground-launched missiles and 35 strike drones. Air defence units managed to down 20 incoming drones and two cruise missiles, it said.
“As a result of the air fight, debris from one of the drones fell on to a high-rise apartment, causing a fire,” the southern military command’s spokeswoman Natalia Humeniuk said.
Firefighters battled overnight to put out the fire in the high-rise block in a residential area of the city, footage released by the military showed.
The morning light revealed a crater in the ground several metres wide next to the damaged building and a children’s playground, a Reuters photographer said.
Ms Humeniuk said the fire had been rapidly put out but that three civilians had died. At least 27 other people, including three children, were injured, the emergency services said.
Russia also fired drones and ballistic and cruise missiles at the Poltava region, inflicting “some damage of infrastructure and equipment” at the Myrhorod military airfield, the regional governor said.
Ten drones attacked two areas of the Kharkiv region, which borders Russia and also backs on to the front line, wounding a 39-year-old man and killing one other person, said governor Oleh Synehubov.
Ukraine also shot down two drones over the Dnipropetrovsk region where no damage was reported, its governor Serhiy Lysak said.
Meanwhile, the UN’s top aid official warned the humanitarian situation in Ukraine is “hugely worse” following the collapse of the Kakhovka dam during the week.
Undersecretary-general Martin Griffiths said an “extraordinary” 700,000 people are in need of drinking water and warned that the ravages of flooding in one of the world’s most important breadbaskets will almost inevitably lead to lower grain exports, higher food prices around the world and less to eat for millions in need.
“This is a viral problem,” he said. “But the truth is this is only the beginning of seeing the consequences of this act.”
The rupture of the Kakhovka hydroelectric dam and emptying of its reservoir on the Dnieper River on Wednesday added to the misery in a region that has suffered for more than a year from artillery and missile attacks.
Ukraine holds the Dnieper’s western bank, while Russian troops control the low-lying eastern side, which is more vulnerable to flooding.
The dam and reservoir, essential for fresh water and irrigation in southern Ukraine, lies in the Kherson region that Moscow illegally annexed in September and has occupied for the past year.
Mr Griffiths said the United Nations, working mainly through Ukrainian aid groups, has reached 30,000 people in flooded areas under Ukrainian control. He said that so far Russia has not given access to areas it controls for the UN to help flood victims.
Mr Griffiths said he met Russia’s UN ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, on Wednesday to request “access for our teams in Ukraine to go across the front lines to give aid, to provide support for… Ukrainians in those areas”.
“We’re providing them with details as we speak, to enable Moscow to meet what we hope will be a positive decision on this,” he said. “I hope that will come through.”
The emergency response is essential to save lives, he said, “but behind that you’ve got a huge, looming problem of a lack of proper drinking water for those 700,000 people” on both the Ukrainian-controlled and Russian-controlled sides of the river.
There is also the flooding of important agricultural land and a looming problem of providing cooling water for the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Europe’s largest, which had been supplied from the dam, he added.
Mr Griffiths also noted that waters have inundated areas planted with landmines during the war “and what we are bound to be seeing are those mines floating in places where people don’t expect them”, threatening adults and especially children.
“So it’s a cascade of problems, starting with allowing people to survive today, and then giving them some kind of prospects for tomorrow,” he said.
Mr Griffiths said that because of the wide-ranging consequences “it’s almost inevitable” that the United Nations will launch a special appeal for more aid funds for Ukraine to deal with “a whole new order of magnitude” from the dam’s rupture. He said he wants to wait a few weeks to see the economic, health and environmental consequences before announcing the appeal.
Mr Griffiths said he and UN trade chief Rebeca Grynspan are also working to ensure the extension of the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which Turkey and the UN brokered with Ukraine and Russia last July to open three Black Sea ports in Ukraine for its grain exports. It has so far been extended three times and is due to expire on July 17th.
Negotiations have been taking place in recent weeks, including at a meeting on Friday in Geneva between Ms Grynspan and Russia’s deputy foreign minister Sergey Vershinin. “We’re not there yet,” Mr Griffiths said. “I hope that we’ll make it.” – agencies