KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — The death toll from a Russian missile attack on apartment blocks in the southern Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia rose to 11 on Friday as the city was hit again by missiles and — for the first time — by explosive-packed drones.
With its army suffering a series of stinging battlefield defeats in recent weeks, Russia has been deploying Iranian-made drones to attack Ukrainian targets. The unmanned, disposable “kamikaze drones” are cheaper and less sophisticated than missiles but have proved effective at causing damage to targets on the ground.
Regional Governor Oleksandr Starukh said Iranian-made Shahed-136 drones damaged two infrastructure facilities in the city of Zaporizhzhia, the first time they had been used there. He said missiles also struck the city again, injuring one person.
The Emergency Services of Ukraine said the toll of Russian S-300 missile strikes on the city a day earlier rose to 11 and a further 21 people were rescued from the rubble of destroyed apartments.
“This was not a random hit, but a series of missiles aimed at multi-story buildings,” Starukh wrote on his Telegram channel.
Zaporizhzhia is one of the four regions of Ukraine that Russian President Vladimir Putin has illegally claimed as Russian territory. The region is home to a sprawling nuclear power plant under Russian occupation; the city of the same name remains under Ukrainian control.
Russia has been reported to have converted the S-300 from its original use as a long-range antiaircraft weapon into a missile for ground attacks because of a shortage of other, more suitable weapons.
The Ukrainian military said most of the drones it shot down Thursday and into Friday were the Iranian-made Shahed-136. The weapons are unlikely to significantly affect the course of the war, however, the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War said.
“They have used many drones against civilian targets in rear areas, likely hoping to generate nonlinear effects through terror. Such efforts are not succeeding,” analysts at the think tank wrote.
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s ability to capture and put back into service Russian tanks and other equipment continues to be an important factor in its forces’ push to repel the invasion.
Ukrainian forces have captured at least 440 tanks and about 650 armored vehicles since the start of the war, Britain’s Ministry of Defense said Friday.
“The failure of Russian crews to destroy intact equipment before withdrawing or surrendering highlights their poor state of training and low levels of battle discipline,” the British said. “With Russian formations under sever strain in several sectors and increasingly demoralized troops, Russia will likely continue to lose heavy weaponry.”
The Ukrainian military also said Friday that 500 former criminals have been mobilized to reinforce Russian ranks in the eastern Donetsk region, where Ukrainian forces have been retaking territory. The new units are commanded by officers drawn from law enforcement, the military said.
U.S. President Joe Biden said Thursday that his Russian counterpart Putin, who turned 70 Friday, has driven the rick of nuclear “Armageddon” to the highest level since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, as Russian officials speak of the possibility of using tactical nuclear weapons after suffering massive setbacks in the eight-month invasion of Ukraine.
Speaking at a fundraiser for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Biden said Putin was “a guy I know fairly well” and the Russian leader was “not joking when he talks about the use of tactical nuclear weapons or biological or chemical weapons.”
In the Czech capital, European Union leaders converged on Prague Castle to try to bridge significant differences over a natural gas price cap as winter approaches and Russia’s war on Ukraine fuels a major energy crisis.
As the Europeans bolster their support for Ukraine in the form of weapons, money and aid, Russia has reduced or cut off natural gas to 13 member nations, leading to surging gas and electricity prices that could climb higher as demand peaks during the cold months.