By SAM MEDNICK – Associated Press
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian forces are stepping up strikes in a bitterly disputed region of eastern Ukraine, worsening already difficult conditions for residents and the defending army following the illegal annexation of Moscow and the declaration of martial law in Donetsk province, Ukrainian authorities said.
The attacks almost completely destroyed power plants that serve the town of Bakhmut and the nearby town of Soledar, said Pavlo Kyrylenko, Ukrainian governor of the region. The shelling killed one civilian and injured three, he reported on Saturday evening.
“The destruction is daily, even hourly,” Kyrylenko said in an interview on state television.
Moscow-backed separatists controlled part of Donetsk for nearly eight years before Russia invaded Ukraine in late February. Protecting the self-declared republic from separatists was one of Russian President Vladimir Putin‘s justifications for the invasion, and his troops spent months trying to capture the entire province.
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While Russia’s “greatest brutality” was focused on the Donetsk region, “constant fighting” continued elsewhere along the frontline which stretches more than 1,000 kilometers (620 miles), a said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in his nightly video address.
Between Saturday and Sunday, Russia launched four missiles and 19 airstrikes hitting more than 35 villages in seven regions, from Chernihiv and Kharkiv in the northeast to Kherson and Mykolaiv in the south, according to the president’s office.
Russia has been focused on tearing down energy infrastructure over the past month, causing power shortages and blackouts across the country. The capital, Kyiv, was expected to have hourly power cuts turning Sunday in various parts of the city of some 3 million people and the surrounding region,
Continued power cuts were also expected in Chernihiv, Cherkasy, Zhytomyr, Sumy, Kharkiv and Poltava regions, Ukraine’s state-owned energy operator, Ukrenergo, said in a Telegram post.
More positive news was the reconnection of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant to the Ukrainian power grid, local media reported on Sunday. Europe’s largest nuclear power plant needs electricity to maintain a vital cooling system, but it has been running on emergency diesel generators since Russian bombing cut its external connections,
In the Donetsk town of Bakhmut, some 15,000 remaining residents were living under daily shelling and without water or electricity, according to local media. The city has been under attack for months, but shelling resumed after Russian forces suffered setbacks during Ukrainian counter-offensives in the Kharkiv and Kherson regions.
In Kharkiv, officials are working to identify bodies found in mass graves after the Russians withdrew, Dmytro Chubenko, spokesman for the regional prosecutor’s office, said in an interview with local media.
DNA samples have been taken from 450 bodies discovered in a mass grave in the town of Izium, but the samples must be matched with relatives and so far only 80 people have participated, he said .
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