By ADAM SCHRECK (Associated Press)
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian forces showered Ukraine with more missiles and munition-carrying drones Tuesday after widespread strikes killed at least 19 people in an attack the U.N. human rights office described as “particularly shocking” and amounting to potential war crimes.
Air raid warnings sounded throughout the country for a second straight morning as Ukrainian officials advised residents to conserve energy and stock up on water. Strikes in the capital and 12 other regions Monday caused power outages and pierced the relative calm that had returned to Kyiv and many other cities far from the war’s front lines.
“It brings anger, not fear,” Kyiv resident Volodymyr Vasylenko, 67, said as crews worked to restore traffic lights and clear debris from the city’s streets. “We already got used to this. And we will keep fighting.”
The leaders of the Group of Seven industrial powers condemned the bombardment and said they would “stand firmly with Ukraine for as long as it takes.” Their pledge defied Russian warnings that Western assistance would prolong the war and the pain of Ukraine’s people.
Russia launched the widespread attacks in retaliation for a weekend explosion that damaged a bridge linking Russia to the Crimean Peninsula, which Moscow annexed in 2014. Russian President Vladimir Putin alleged the Ukrainian special services masterminded the attack on the Kerch Bridge.
The Ukrainian government has applauded but not claimed responsibility for the Saturday’s explosion. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged the G-7 leaders during a virtual meeting to respond “symmetrically” to Russia’s attacks on the Ukrainian energy sector by doing more to stop Russia profiting from its exports of oil and gas.
“Such steps can bring peace closer,” Zelenskyy said. “They will encourage the terrorist state to think about peace, about the unprofitability of war.”
Ukrainian officials said the previous day’s diffuse strikes on power plants and civilian areas made no “practical military sense.” However, Putin’s supporters had urged the Kremlin for weeks to take more drastic steps in Ukraine and actively criticized the Russian military for a series of embarrassing battlefield setbacks.
Pro-Kremlin pundits lauded Monday’s attack as an appropriate and long-awaited response to Kyiv’s successful counteroffensives. Many of them argued that Moscow should keep up the intensity to win a war now in its eighth month.
Like Monday’s strikes, the bombardment Tuesday struck both energy infrastructure and civilian areas. One person was killed when 12 missiles slammed into the southern city of Zaporizhzhia, setting off a large fire, the State Emergency Service said. A local official said the missiles hit a school, residential buildings and medical facilities.
Energy facilities in the western Lviv and Vinnytsia regions also took hits. Officials said Ukrainian forces shot down an inbound Russian missile before it reached Kyiv, but the capital region experienced rolling power outages as a result of the previous day’s deadly strikes.
The Ukrainian General Staff said its forces shot down 21 cruise missiles and 11 drones in the past day, including all eight Iranian-made drones targeting critical infrastructure in the Mykolaiv region.
The governor of Mykolaiv, Vitaliy Kim, urged residents to remain in bomb shelters as “there are enough missiles still in the air.”
The State Emergency Service said 19 people died and 105 people were wounded in Monday’s strikes. At least five of the victims were in Kyiv, Mayor Vitali Klitschko said. More than 300 cities and towns lost power.
A spokesperson for the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said Tuesday that strikes on “civilian objects,” including infrastructure such as power plants, could qualify as a war crime.
“Damage to key power stations and lines ahead of the upcoming winter raises further concerns for the protection of civilians and in particular the impact on vulnerable populations,” Ravina Shamdasani told reporters at a U.N. briefing in Geneva. “Attacks targeting civilians and objects indispensable to the survival of civilians are prohibited under international humanitarian law.”
The tempo of the war in the last month fanned concerns that Moscow might broaden the battlefield and resort to using nuclear weapons in Ukraine. As Ukraine’s counteroffensives in the east and south forced Russia’s troops to retreat from some areas, a cornered Kremlin ratcheted up Cold War-era rhetoric.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov addressed the issue Tuesday, saying Moscow would only employ nuclear weapons if the Russian state faced imminent destruction. Speaking on state TV, he accused the West of encouraging false speculation about the Kremlin’s intentions.
Russia’s nuclear doctrine envisions “exclusively retaliatory measures intended to prevent the destruction of the Russian Federation as a result of direct nuclear strikes or the use of other weapons that raise the threat for the very existence of the Russian state,” Lavrov said.
In Brussels, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the 30-nation military alliance would hold exercises next week to test the state of readiness of its nuclear capabilities. The war games, dubbed “Steadfast Noon,” are held annually.
Asked whether it was the wrong time for such exercises, Stoltenberg replied: “It would send a very wrong signal now, if we suddenly cancelled a routine, long-time planned exercise because of the war in Ukraine.”
Stoltenberg said Putin’s nuclear rhetoric during the war in Ukraine was “irresponsible” but he believes “Russia knows that a nuclear war can never be won and must never be fought.”
NATO as an organization does not possess any nuclear weapons. They remain under the control of three member countries – the United States, the U.K. and France.
Those countries make up the G-7 along with Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan and the European Union. In their statement after hearing from Zelenskyy, the G-7 leaders said they were “undeterred and steadfast in our commitment to providing the support Ukraine needs to uphold its sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
“We will hold President Putin and those responsible to account” for this week’s strikes, saying “indiscriminate attacks on innocent civilian populations constitute a war crime.”
The pledge appeared to come in response to Kremlin warnings that Western military assistance, including training Ukrainian soldiers in NATO countries and feeding real-time satellite data to target Russian forces, increasingly made Ukraine’s allies parties to the conflict.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said continued U.S. weapons deliveries to Ukraine would prolong the fighting and inflict more damage on the country without changing Russia’s objectives.
As Russian forces pounded three districts around the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant overnight, Ukraine’s state nuclear operator said Russian forces kidnapped the plant’s deputy human resources director, Valeriy Martyniuk.
Russians previously detained plant General Director Ihor Murashow and released him following pressure from International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi.
Grossi, who met with Putin in St. Petersburg on Tuesday, urged him to agree to establish a “safety and security protection zone” around the Russian-occupied plant to prevent shelling at and near the site from causing a radiation disaster.
“Now, more than ever, during these extremely difficult times, a protection zone must be established around the ZNPP. We can’t afford to lose any more time,” Grossi said in a statement.
The IAEA said Grossi would return to Kyiv for another meeting with Zelenskyy.
Yuras Karmanau in Tallinn, Estonia, Jamey Keaten in Geneva, Lorne Cook in Brussels and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed reporting.
Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
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