Russia Expands Attacks on Ukrainian Civilian Targets After Frontline Setbacks

  • Russia steps up attacks on civilian targets in Ukraine – Britain
  • Graves found near Izium, Ukraine says relatives are searching for the dead
  • Biden urges Putin not to use tactical nuclear and chemical weapons
  • Main power cable restored at Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant – IAEA

IZIUM, Ukraine, Sept 18 (Reuters) – Russia has expanded its strikes on Ukrainian civilian infrastructure in the past week following a setback on the battlefield and is likely to widen its target range further, Britain said on Sunday.

Ukrainians returning to the northeast were searching for dead in Kiev’s lightning advance earlier this month, while Russian artillery and airstrikes pounded targets in Ukraine’s east.

Five civilians were killed in Russian attacks in the eastern Donetsk region over the past day and dozens of residential buildings, gas pipelines and power lines were hit in western Nikopol, regional governors said on Sunday.

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Britain’s Ministry of Defense said Russian attacks on civilian infrastructure, including power grids and dams, had intensified over the past seven days.

“Faced with setbacks on the front lines, Russia may have extended its strike-ready positions in an attempt to directly undermine the morale of the Ukrainian people and government,” the intelligence update said.

On Saturday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video address that authorities had discovered a mass grave in Izium containing the bodies of 17 soldiers, some of whom he said bore signs of torture.

Residents of Izium search for dead relatives at a forest cemetery site where emergency workers began exhuming bodies last week. The causes of death of those in the burial ground have not yet been established, although residents say some died in airstrikes.

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Ukrainian authorities said last week they had found 440 bodies in the woods near Isium. They said most of the dead were civilians and the cause of death was not ascertained.

The Kremlin has not commented on the discovery of the graves, but in the past Moscow has repeatedly denied deliberately targeting civilians or committing atrocities.

Walking among the graves and trees in the excavation forest, Volodymyr Golznik tried to match the numbers written on wooden crosses to a beautifully handwritten list to find relatives he said had died in an airstrike in the early days. War. Kolesnick said he got the list from a local funeral home that excavated the graves.

“They buried the bodies in bags, without coffins, without anything. At first I wasn’t allowed here. They (the Russians) said it was cut and told me to wait,” he told Reuters on Saturday.

Oleksandr Ilienkov, the head of the prosecutor’s office for the Kharkiv region, told Reuters at the scene on Friday: “One of the bodies (found) has a ligament structure and a rope around the neck, evidence of the hands being tied.” For other bodies there are signs of violent death but they will be subjected to forensic examination.

Iziam’s mayor said on Sunday that work on the site would continue for another two weeks.

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“Excavations are underway, graves are being dug and all the remains are being transported to Kharkiv,” Valery Marchenko told state television.

In the village of Kochacha Loban, about 45 km (30 miles) north of Kharkiv and 5 km (3 miles) from the Russian border, a Reuters reporter was taken to a squalid cellar of barred cells that local authorities had served as a makeshift prison during the occupation. Local district mayor Vyacheslav Satorenko said the cells were used as “torture cellars” to detain civilians. Reuters could not verify those accounts.

Still scared

Elsewhere in the region, residents of cities recaptured after six months of Russian occupation were returning with a mixture of joy and trepidation. read more

“I still have this feeling that at any moment a shell might explode or a plane might fly overhead,” said Natalia Yelistratova, who traveled 80 km (50 miles) by train from Kharkiv to her hometown with her husband and daughter. Balaglia found his apartment intact but scarred by shelling.

“I’m still scared to be here,” she said after discovering a piece of paper on a wall.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has not responded to the allegations, but on Friday, he slammed Ukraine’s swift counterattack and said Moscow would respond more forcefully if its troops came under further pressure. read more

Such repeated threats have raised concerns that he may at some point turn to small nuclear weapons or chemical warfare.

Asked what he would say to Putin about using such weapons, US President Joe Biden replied: “No. No. No. It will change the face of warfare after World War II.” Commentary from an interview with the CBS program “60 Minutes” was released by CBS on Saturday. read more

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Some military analysts have said the Russians could have staged a nuclear incident at Zaporizhzhia, Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, which is run by Russia but staffed by Ukrainians.

Moscow and Kiev accuse each other of shelling around the plant, which damaged buildings and disrupted power lines needed to keep it cool and safe. The United Nations nuclear watchdog said Saturday that the plant was reconnected to Ukraine’s electricity grid after one of the reactors was repaired. However, it warned that the situation at the plant was “at a dangerous level”. read more

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Reporting by Reuters Bureaus Writing by Lincoln Feast, Raisa Kasolowski and Tomasz Janowski Editing by William Mallard and Frances Kerry

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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