At least three people were killed and 26 injured in Russian missile and artillery attacks on Ukraine, as it sought to defuse a trade row with neighbouring European Union states that prompted Poland to say it would not supply any more of its own arms to Kyiv.
Ukraine said it shot down 36 of 43 missiles fired by Russia early on Thursday, but energy facilities were hit in several regions, causing blackouts in nearly 400 communities in a strike that resembled the devastating attacks on the power grid of last autumn and winter.
“Overnight, Russia launched a massive missile attack on Ukraine. Civilians, hostels, a petrol station, a hotel and energy and civil infrastructure were targeted,” said Oleksiy Kuleba, deputy head of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s administration.
“Difficult months are ahead – Russia will attack energy and critically important facilities. Do not ignore air raid sirens,” he added.
At least three people were killed and five hurt in Russian shelling in the Kherson region of southeastern Ukraine, and missile strikes on the central city of Cherkasy and the capital Kyiv injured at least 10 and seven people respectively.
Ukraine’s security forces claimed to have launched more attacks on Moscow’s military in Crimea, which the Kremlin occupied in 2014, and said successful drone and missile strikes had been conducted against the Saky airbase and a command post of Russia’s Black Sea naval fleet at Verkhniosadove.
Mr Zelenskiy is pressing US president Joe Biden for more arms during a visit to Washington this week, while at home many of his officials and diplomats seek to resolve a damaging row with Poland and other EU and Nato neighbours.
Relations between Kyiv and Warsaw sharply deteriorated after Ukraine announced plans to file a complaint with the World Trade Organisation over Poland’s decision, along with Hungary and Slovakia, to ban imports of some Ukrainian farm products.
Brussels lifted a ban last week on Ukrainian grain imports to several neighbouring EU states, but Poland, Slovakia and Hungary then imposed their own restrictions in what they called a move to protect domestic farmers from a collapse in prices for their own harvest.
After Polish president Andrzej Duda compared Ukraine with a “drowning man” that could drag its neighbours towards disaster, Poland’s prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki said his country would not send any more of its own arms to Kyiv’s forces.
“Ukraine is defending itself against the brutal Russian attack and I understand this situation but ... we will protect our country. We no longer transfer weapons to Ukraine, because we are now arming Poland,” he said.
Warsaw made clear that existing arms deals would be honoured and transfers of western weapons to Ukraine via Poland would not be affected, but the angry rift with perhaps its staunchest erstwhile European ally is alarming for Kyiv.
Analysts say Polish domestic politics are a major factor, as the ruling Law and Justice party campaigns for parliamentary elections next month and seeks to counter criticism from the country’s influential farming lobby and ultra-nationalists, who claim that Ukraine and Ukrainian refugees are receiving too much help.
Mykola Solskyi, Ukraine’s minister for agrarian policy and food, discussed the dispute with Polish counterpart Robert Telus, and they “agreed to find a solution that takes into account the interests of both countries”, Kyiv said, adding that “the next negotiations will take place in the coming days”.
A possible template for a deal was clinched between Ukraine and Slovakia on Thursday, when they agreed to a licensing system to regulate grain trade and allow the EU state to lift its ban on Ukrainian imports.