By JAMEY KEATEN (Associated Press)
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — In yet another show of defiance from Kyiv, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited an eastern town near the frontline on Tuesday as Russia reported drone attacks at strategic sites within its territory for a second day.
A fire broke out at an airport in southern Russia’s Kursk region, which borders Ukraine, after a drone hit the facility, the region’s governor said. An industrial plant 80 kilometers (50 miles) from the Ukrainian border was also targeted by drones that appeared to have missed a fuel depot, Russian independent media reported.
Russian federal authorities did not immediately blame Ukraine for the strikes reported on Tuesday, but accused Ukrainian forces of carrying out similar attacks on two airbases in the heart of Russia a day earlier.
Monday’s attacks – more than 500 kilometers (300 miles) from the border with Ukraine – on the Engels base in the Saratov region and the Dyagilevo base in the Ryazan region were among the most brazen in Russia during the war.
In the aftermath, Russian troops launched another wave of missiles into Ukraine, killing civilians, hitting homes and worsening damage to power plants and other infrastructure from previous blockades.
About half of households in the Kyiv region were left without power, the regional governor said on Tuesday. Authorities in the southern region of Odessa, where Monday’s strikes caused blackouts, said they had restored power to hospitals and some vital services.
To mark Ukrainian Armed Forces Day, Zelenskyy visited the eastern region of Donetsk on Tuesday and pledged to push Russian forces out of all Ukrainian territory.
“Everyone sees your strength and talent. … I am grateful to your parents. They have raised real heroes,” Zelenskyy said in a video address to Ukrainian forces from the city of Sloviansk, a key Ukrainian stronghold in the east.
Ukrainian officials have not officially confirmed carrying out the drone attacks, but instead have made ambiguous statements as they have done in the past regarding high-profile attacks on Russian targets.
But presidential adviser Mikhail Podolyak taunted Moscow in comments on Twitter.
“If something is launched into the airspace of other countries, sooner or later unknown flying objects will return to the starting point,” Podolyak wrote. “The earth is round.”
The Russian Defense Ministry said three Russian servicemen were killed and four others injured by debris, and two planes were slightly damaged.
Attacks on Russian bases have been deeply embarrassing and have exposed the vulnerability of some of Russia’s most strategic military sites, raising questions about the effectiveness of their air defenses. They also threatened a major escalation in the nine-month war.
Russian military bloggers expressed their anger online, criticizing a perceived lack of defense planning that allowed the attacks to occur.
A pro-war Russian blogger posted on the “Milinfolive” Telegram channel on Monday denounced Russian military leaders, alleging that incompetence and a lack of proper fortifications at airbases made alleged Ukrainian drone strikes possible. Another blogger pointed to the reputational damage inflicted by the attacks.
The Engels base hosts Tu-95 and Tu-160 nuclear-capable strategic bombers that have been involved in strikes against Ukraine. Dyagilevo is home to tanker aircraft used for aerial refueling.
In a daily intelligence update on the war in Ukraine, Britain’s Ministry of Defense said Russia was likely to see base attacks as “some of the most strategically important failures in force protection.” since its invasion of Ukraine”.
He said the bombers would likely be dispersed to other airfields.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russian authorities would “take necessary steps” to strengthen the protection of key facilities in view of the latest Ukrainian attacks.
Speaking on a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, Peskov said the “Ukrainian regime’s continuation of such terror attacks poses a threat.”
Peskov reiterated that Russia sees no prospect for peace talks at this time, adding that “the Russian Federation must achieve its stated goals.”
In Ukraine, the Russian military continued its intense attacks, shelling towns overnight near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, leaving more than 9,000 homes without running water, local Ukrainian officials said.
The towns lie across the Dnieper River from the nuclear power plant, which was seized by Russian forces early in the war. Russia and Ukraine have accused each other for months of shelling on and around the plant.
The head of the Sumy region in northern Ukraine, which borders Russia, said Moscow had launched more than 80 missile and heavy artillery attacks on its territory. Governor Dmytro Zhyvytsky said the strikes damaged a monastery near the border town of Shalyhyne.
Ukrainian Air Force spokesman Yurii Ihnat said the country’s ability to shoot down incoming missiles was improving, noting there were no recent reports of drone use. Iranian-made explosives on Ukrainian territory.
He declined to comment on the damage to the two Russian airbases, adding: “We will have to wait for satellite photos and open source information.”
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