Seven loud explosions rocked Ukraine’s southeast city of Zaporizhzia early Thursday, as Russian rockets slammed into residential buildings, killing at least one person and leaving five trapped, according to the local governor. The city is the largest in the southern Ukrainian region of the same name, most of which remains occupied by Russian forces, including the town of Enerhodar, which is home to Europe’s largest nuclear power plant. The city of Zaporizhzia itself remains under Ukrainian control, however.
Ongoing fighting around the nuclear plant has fueled fears for months of a potentially disastrous breach of its reactors. The U.N.’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), sent a team to visit the facility last month, but Russia has so far ignored calls by the U.N., Ukraine, the U.S. and many other nations to pull its forces out of the facility.
A 3-year-old girl was among those rescued from damaged buildings after the latest rocket strikes, the local governor said.
The Zaporizhzia region is one of four that Russian President Vladimir Putin formally annexed on Wednesday after staging referendums condemned by the U.S. and Ukraine’s government as a “sham.”
The head of the United Nations, along with Ukraine’s government, the U.S. and other international allies, have dismissed the annexation as a blatant land grab, and illegal under international law. Ukraine’s foreign minister on Thursday declared Putin’s move “null and void.”
The Zaporizhzia Nuclear Power Plant has sustained damage amid the fighting in recent months, and some of the Ukrainian workers who’ve kept it running despite the occupation have been abducted by Russian forces.
The head of the IAEA is visiting Ukraine again this week to speak to officials about Russia’s annexation of the region around the plant. Director General Rafael Grossi is also expected to discuss efforts to create a demilitarized protection zone around the sprawling nuclear facility.
Late Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Ukraine had recaptured three more villages in the Kherson region, which sits just southwest of Zaporizhzia. It is part of a Ukrainian counteroffensive that has seen Ukraine retake a significant portion of the land occupied by Russia in just a few weeks, including one key city.
In the newly recaptured city of Lyman, bombed-out Russian convoys sat abandoned along the sides of the roads, still full of the belongings of the Russian soldiers who tried to flee the counteroffensive. Some of their bloated bodies remained in the woods nearby, reported CBS News senior foreign correspondent Charlie D’Agata, who visited the town on Wednesday.
“There was so much shelling. I stayed in the basement,” Sveta, a Lyman resident, told D’Agata. “My husband is disabled, so I was taking care of him.”
Lyman had served as a key logistics hub for Russia’s occupying forces for months after Putin launched his invasion on February 24, quickly seizing the town and much of the area around it. It was a major defeat for his forces when Ukrainian troops retook it. But as D’Agata notes, the damage suffered by the town has been overwhelming. As winter closes in, the homes still standing in Lyman are without running water, electricity, or heat.
Despite Ukraine’s military success in retaking the city, another Lyman resident told CBS News everything was already lost.
“Victory? Oh God… It’s a dead city,” the woman, named Nadia, told D’Agata. “Where is the victory? They destroyed the city and that is it.”
Haley Ott is a digital reporter/producer for CBS News based in London.
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