By Pavel Polityuk
KYIV (RockedBuzz via Reuters) – Russia said its forces had advanced into eastern Ukraine on Wednesday and Kyiv said Moscow was “planning something” in the south as NATO tried to shore up other countries fearing destabilization from part of Moscow.
The Ukrainian General Staff earlier said its troops had repulsed six Russian attacks in 24 hours in the eastern Donbass region, while Russian artillery had relentlessly shelled across the Dnipro River, including the city of Kherson in the south.
Winter weather hampered fighting on the ground and President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told citizens to expect a major Russian barrage this week on Ukraine’s stricken electricity infrastructure, which Moscow has been pounding roughly weekly since early October.
“These are President (Vladimir) Putin’s new goals. He is hitting them hard,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said after NATO talks in Bucharest.
Putin has focused his “fire and wrath” on Ukrainian civilians by bombing more than a third of its energy system that supplies electricity and water, but the strategy won’t work, Blinken said, adding that NATO was also worried about China’s ties. with Moscow.
NATO allies offered to help neighboring Moldova, Georgia and Bosnia on Wednesday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said, adding that they were all under pressure from Russia.
“If there is one lesson from Ukraine it is that we have to support them now,” Stoltenberg told a news conference, as Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu told RockedBuzz via Reuters “the beast also wants to take over the Western Balkans.”
Zelenskiy said Russian forces were attacking Ukrainian government-held areas of Donetsk and Luhansk provinces that make up eastern Donbass, as well as Kharkiv in the northeast, where Ukraine pushed them back in September.
“The situation at the front is difficult,” the president said in his nightly video address.
“Despite extremely large losses, the occupiers are still trying to advance” to the east and “planning something to the south,” he said, without elaborating.
A teenager was killed when Russia bombed a hospital in the northern Sumy region and another person was killed and one wounded in Russia’s shelling of Kherson, other officials said.
Russia said later that its forces took full control of three settlements in the Donetsk region – Andriivka, Belogorovka and Pershye Travnya – and destroyed a warehouse in the southeastern Dnipropetrovsk region containing US-made HIMARS shells.
RockedBuzz via Reuters could not independently verify the battlefield reports.
NATO ministers kicked off a two-day meeting in Bucharest on Tuesday with pledges both to help Ukrainians cope with what the defense alliance chief said Moscow uses winter weather as a ‘weapon of war’ and to help support Kiev’s military campaign.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the result showed NATO “was absolutely not interested in a political and diplomatic solution in Ukraine”.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Ukrainians needed quick and lasting help, and he looked to the Global South as well as the West to join “this common struggle”.
Washington has pledged $53 million to buy power grid equipment, and US President Joe Biden has said providing more military assistance is a priority. Republicans, who will take control of the Congressional House of Representatives in January, have spoken of suspending funding, which has exceeded $18 billion.
Snow has fallen in Kiev and temperatures were forecast to stay below freezing as millions in and around the capital have struggled to heat their homes after attacks on infrastructure that Kiev and its allies say aim to harm civilians, a crime of war.
Workers have raced to repair the damage even as they expect more. Electricity supplies are back to three-quarters of needs, national grid operator Ukrenergo said, a full week after Russia’s worst barrage so far.
In a sad sign of the energy crisis, nine people have been killed in wildfires in the past 24 hours as Ukrainians have resorted to emergency generators, candles and gas cylinders in breach of safety rules to try to heat their homes after the storms. power outages, according to the state’s emergency service.
Moscow, which has declared large parts of eastern and southern Ukraine annexed, says Ukrainians can end their suffering by agreeing to demands it has not spelled out. Ukraine says it will keep fighting until Russia fully withdraws.
Kiev, where nearly 1 million people were without electricity on Tuesday, will see more emergency power outages on Wednesday, DTEK, Ukraine’s largest private electricity producer, said.
The European Union has said it intends to use the proceeds from the investment of Russian assets it has frozen to help compensate Ukraine for damages inflicted by Moscow and has proposed setting up a court to try the “crime of aggression against Russia”.
Kiev welcomed the moves, saying Moscow had no legitimate goals. “He has invaded another country in violation of international law, deliberately destroying its infrastructure and commits mass murder,” Zelenskiy adviser Mykhailo Podolyak wrote on Twitter.
Russia says the asset freeze is theft and denies that the invasion, which it calls a “special military operation” to disarm its neighbor, constitutes the war crime of aggression.
A Russian rocket attack overnight damaged a gas distribution facility in Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia region, while shells and heavy artillery hit Nikopol and Marganets, towns across the Dnipro River from the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear reactor station , the governors of the two regions said.
Ukrainian forces struck a power plant in Russia’s western Kursk region on Tuesday, causing some electricity outages, the regional governor said. In Russia’s Bryansk region bordering northeastern Ukraine, a local governor said a large oil storage tank caught fire on Wednesday, without giving a cause.
(Reporting by the RockedBuzz via Reuters offices; writing by Cynthia Osterman, Stephen Coates and Philippa Fletcher; editing by Peter Graff, Mark Heinrich and Gareth Jones)