Russian-backed separatists say Ukrainian shelling in eastern Ukraine has killed at least 40 Ukrainian prisoners of war captured during the fighting in Mariupol. The separatists said at least 75 prisoners were wounded.
The Ukrainian POWs had been among those who had taken refuge in the Azovstal steel mill in Mariupol where they were able to hold off Russian troops for nearly three months.
The British Defense Ministry said in an intelligence update on Twitter Friday that Russia, “in a significant change,” has handed over responsibility for portions of its frontline activities to the Wagner Group, a Russian private military company.
The move makes it difficult, the post said, for Russia to deny links between such companies and the Russian state. The measure was undertaken, according to the ministry, because Russia likely has “a major shortage of combat infantry.”
“Since March, Russian private military company (PMC) Wagner Group has operated in eastern Ukraine in coordination with the Russian military,” the British ministry posted. “Wagner has likely been allocated responsibility for specific sectors of the front line, in a similar manner to normal army units.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his daily address Thursday, “No one in the world invests in terrorism more than Russia.”
He said, “This really needs a legal response at the global level. And there is no rational reason why such a reaction should not occur, particularly in the United States.”
Zelenskyy thanked U.S. senators who have “unanimously approved the resolution calling on the U.S. Department of State to recognize Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism.” Russia would join Cuba, North Korea, Iran and Syria.
For the first time in weeks, Russia launched missile attacks Thursday on Ukraine’s capital area, Kyiv, and the northern Chernihiv region, in what Ukraine alleged was retaliation for its continued resistance to Moscow’s invasion.
Russia attacked the Kyiv region with six missiles launched from the Black Sea, wounding 15 people, five of them civilians, a Ukrainian regional governor said. Ukraine said it shot down one of the missiles, but that Moscow’s forces hit a military compound in the village of Liutizh outside the capital city, destroying one building and damaging two others.
Kyiv regional Governor Oleksiy Kuleba linked the attacks to the Day of Statehood commemoration that Zelenskyy instituted last year, and that Ukraine marked on Thursday for the first time.
“Russia, with the help of missiles, is mounting revenge for the widespread popular resistance, which the Ukrainians were able to organize precisely because of their statehood,” Kuleba told Ukrainian television. “Ukraine has already broken Russia’s plans and will continue to defend itself.”
Chernihiv regional Governor Vyacheslav Chaus reported that Russia also fired missiles from neighboring Belarus at the village of Honcharivska. The Chernihiv region had not been targeted in weeks.
Russia withdrew from the Kyiv and Chernihiv areas months ago after failing to capture either region or to topple Zelenskyy’s government.
Meanwhile, Ukraine said it had launched an offensive to recapture the Kherson region that Russia took control of earlier in the war, on Wednesday knocking out of commission a key bridge over the Dnieper River.
Ukrainian media quoted Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych as saying Kyiv’s forces are planning to isolate Russian troops and leave them with three options — “retreat, if possible, surrender or be destroyed.”
Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, warned that the Russians are augmenting their forces in the Kherson region, saying, “A very large-scale movement of their troops has begun.”
The British military assessed that Ukraine has used its new, Western-supplied long-range artillery to damage at least three of the bridges across the Dnieper that Russia relies on to supply its forces.
The daily assessment from the British Defense Ministry said the city of Kherson “is now virtually cut off from other occupied territories.”
Russian officials said their forces would use other ways to cross areas with damaged bridges, including pontoon bridges and ferries.
Zelenskyy adviser Arestovych acknowledged that Russian forces have taken over Ukraine’s second-biggest power plant. He characterized the development, however, as only a “tiny tactical advantage” for the Russians.
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.