KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — The death toll from a missile attack on apartment buildings in a southern Ukrainian city has risen to 11 as more Russian missiles and — for the first time — Explosive-laden drones targeted Ukrainian-held Zaporizhzhia on Friday.
As the war sparked by Russia’s invasion of its neighbor in February continued, the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the Nobel Prize of Peace to human rights organizations in Russia and Ukraine, and an activist imprisoned in Belarus, an ally of Russia.
Asked by a reporter whether the award shared by Belarusian rights activist Ales Bialiatski, Russian group Memorial and Ukrainian organization Center for Civil Liberties should be considered a ‘birthday present’ for Russian President Vladimir Putinwho turned 70 on Friday, committee chair Berit Reiss-Andersen said no.
“The award is not for President Putin, not for his birthday or in any other sense, except that his government, as a government in Belarus, represents an authoritarian government that suppresses human rights activists,” said Reiss-Andersen.
Putin this week illegally claimed four regions of Ukraine as Russian territory, including the Zaporizhzhia region which hosts a sprawling nuclear power plant under Russian occupation; the city of the same name remains under Ukrainian control.
The fighting near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant has alarmed the UN’s atomic energy watchdog. An accident there could release 10 times more life-threatening radioactivity than the world’s worst nuclear accident at Chernobyl 36 years ago, Ukraine’s Environmental Protection Minister Ruslan Strilets said on Friday.
“The situation with the occupation, bombing and operation of the Chernobyl and Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plants by Russian troops has consequences that will have a global character,” Strilets told The Associated Press in an interview by e- mail while attending a UN conference in Cyprus.
With his the army is losing ground to a Ukrainian counteroffensive in the south and east of the country, Russia deployed Iranian-made drones to attack Ukrainian targets. Unmanned, disposable “kamikaze drones” are cheaper and less sophisticated than missiles, but have proven effective in causing damage to ground targets.
Regional Governor Oleksandr Starukh said Iranian-made Shahed-136 drones damaged two infrastructure in the city of Zaporizhzhia, the first time they were used there. He said missiles also hit the town again, injuring one person.
Ukrainian emergency services said the death toll from Russian S-300 missile strikes on the city a day earlier had risen to 11 and another 21 people had been rescued from the rubble of flats destroyed.
“It was not a random hit, but a series of missiles aimed at multi-storey buildings,” Starukh wrote on his Telegram channel.
Russia reportedly converted the S-300 from its original use as a long-range anti-aircraft weapon to a missile for ground attack due to a shortage of other more suitable weapons.
The Ukrainian military said most of the drones shot down on Thursday and Friday were Iranian-made Shahed-136s. However, weapons are unlikely to significantly affect the course of the war, the Washington-based Institute for the Study of Warfare said.
“They used many drones against civilian targets in rear areas, probably hoping to generate non-linear effects through terror. Such efforts are not successful,” the think tank analysts wrote.
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s ability to capture and recommission Russian tanks and other equipment continues to be an important factor in pushing its forces to repel the invasion.
Ukrainian forces have captured at least 440 tanks and around 650 armored vehicles since the start of the war, Britain’s Ministry of Defense said on Friday.
“The inability of Russian crews to destroy intact equipment before withdrawing or surrendering highlights their poor state of training and low level of combat discipline,” the British said. “With Russian formations under heavy pressure in several sectors and troops increasingly demoralized, Russia is likely to continue to lose heavy weapons.”
Ukraine’s military also said on Friday that 500 former criminals have been mobilized to bolster Russian ranks in the eastern region of Donetsk, where Ukrainian forces have retaken territory. The new units are commanded by officers drawn from law enforcement, the army said.
US President Joe Biden warned on Thursday that Putin had pushed the risk of nuclear ‘Armageddon’ to the highest level since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. Russian officials have raised the possibility of using tactical nuclear weapons to defend Russian territory, including the newly annexed regions of Ukraine.
Speaking at a fundraiser for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Biden said Putin “wasn’t kidding when he talked about the use of tactical nuclear weapons or biological or chemical weapons.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he called Putin on Friday to congratulate him on his 70th birthday and they discussed a possible meeting on the sidelines of an Asia-related summit in Kazakhstan next week.
Erdogan told Putin that Turkey was ready to do its part for a “peaceful resolution of the Ukrainian issue in a way that would be in everyone’s interest”, according to a statement from the Turkish leader’s office.
In the Czech capital, European Union leaders converged on Prague Castle in an attempt to bridge major differences over a natural gas price cap as winter approaches and Russia’s war on Ukraine fuels a major energy crisis.
As the Europeans ramp up their support for Ukraine in the form of arms, money and aid, Russia has reduced or cut off natural gas to 13 member countries, leading to soaring gas and oil prices. electricity that could spike as demand peaks during the cold months.
Associated Press writer Hanna Arhirova in Ukraine contributed to this report.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine