KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian troops scrambled Thursday to recapture lost land in areas of Ukraine illegally annexed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, as Moscow tried to push the embattled country into submission with more missile and drone attacks on critical infrastructure. .
Russian forces attacked Ukrainian positions near Bilohorivka, a village in the Lugansk region of eastern Ukraine. In the neighboring Donetsk region, fighting is raging near the town of Bakhmut. Kremlin-backed separatists have controlled parts of both regions for 8½ years.
Putin declared a state of emergency in Lugansk, Donetsk and southern Ukraine’s Zaporozhye and Kherson regions on Wednesday in a bid to assert Russian rule in the annexed areas after a series of battlefield setbacks and troubled troop mobilization.
The unresolved status of the illegally absorbed territory was particularly visible in the regional capital of Kherson, where military officials replaced Kremlin-appointed civilian leaders amid mass evacuations and an ongoing Ukrainian counteroffensive.
Kherson was one of the first urban areas Russia seized when it invaded Ukraine, and remains a prime target for both sides because of its key industries and large river port. Thousands of the city’s 250,000 residents left the city in anticipation of increased attacks.
President Volodymyr Zelensky’s office said Thursday that Ukrainian forces continued to fight the enemy, carrying out 15 attacks on Russian military strongholds in the Kherson region.
Meanwhile, Russia continued its increased attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, sending drones and missiles into eight regions. At least three civilians were killed and 14 were wounded in overnight attacks across Ukraine, the Ukrainian president’s office said.
In Kryvyi Rih, Russian strikes damaged a power plant and another energy facility, knocking out power in the central Ukrainian city of about 600,000. In addition to being Zelensky’s hometown, Krivi Rih is home to several large metallurgical plants that are key to Ukraine’s economy. Regional Governor Valentin Reznichenko said the city suffered serious damage.
Ukrainian authorities said rocket and drone strikes ignited several fires in the southern city of Mykolaiv, with four drones hitting a school. Another school in Komišvaka, a village in the Zaporozhye region, also suffered four drone strikes and sustained damage. Authorities said there were no casualties.
Russia’s sustained attacks on Ukraine’s infrastructure prompted authorities to ask residents to reduce energy use from 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. starting Thursday and to dim the city’s street lights. They warned of a power outage.
“Now any illuminated business sign, billboard or washing machine can lead to serious emergency shutdowns,” Reznichenko said.
Despite the Kremlin’s claims to the contrary, a leading Russian military expert has unwittingly admitted that Iran supplied Russia with the drones it uses in Ukraine.
Ruslan Pukhov, head of the Moscow-based think tank Center for the Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, asked reporters before a television interview not to ask him where the drones were coming from, unaware that he was live on air.
Puhov said that “we all know that they are of Iranian production, but the authorities did not admit it.”
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova on Thursday dismissed reports that Moscow is using Iranian-made drones in Ukraine as “rumors” and “made-up assumptions.”
In Brussels, the European Union on Thursday imposed sanctions on the Iranian company Shahed Aviation Industries, as well as three generals of the Iranian armed forces for undermining the territorial integrity of Ukraine by helping to supply Russia with unmanned aerial vehicles.
In another sign of Russia’s faltering mobilization, Ukrainian authorities said more than 3,000 Russians have so far called a dedicated hotline for those who do not want to take part in the war and want to surrender.
Hotline spokesman Vitalii Matvienko said newly recruited Russian soldiers are now calling, with some reaching out in tears for fear of being called.
“When the Ukrainian counteroffensive progresses, the number of calls increases,” Matvienko said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Ukraine says it guarantees safety to anyone who surrenders in accordance with international law and can return to Russia or apply to live in some European Union countries or in Ukraine.
Hanna Arhirova in Kyiv and Lorne Cook in Brussels contributed to this report.
Follow AP coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine