Harrowing footage from Ukraine shows explosions and huge plumes of smoke as Putin launched a birthday attack on the recently liberated city of Kharkiv.

A series of explosions rocked the city in eastern Ukraine yesterday morning, sending towering plumes of illuminated smoke into the sky and triggering a series of secondary explosions.

There were no immediate reports of casualties.

It has been less than a month since Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky announced that his forces had liberated more than 30 settlements in the Kharkiv region, one of the worst-hit areas of the conflict.

And yesterday he said Ukrainian forces had recaptured nearly 2,500 square kilometres (965 square miles) of territory from Russia in a counteroffensive that began late last month.   

The blasts early on Saturday came hours after Russia concentrated attacks in its increasingly troubled invasion of Ukraine on areas it illegally annexed, while the death toll from earlier missile strikes on apartment buildings in the southern city of Zaporizhzhia rose to 14.

Putin launched a fresh attack on the city of Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine yesterday morning

Kharkiv mayor Ihor Terekhov said on Telegram that the early morning explosions were the result of missile strikes that hit one of the city’s medical institutions, a non-residential building and other spots.

But despite the daily threat of Russian missile attacks, Ukrainian supporters have shared hopes that the war could be over by Christmas

‘This week alone, our soldiers liberated 776 square kilometres of territory in the east of our country and 29 settlements, including six in Lugansk region,’ Zelensky said.

‘In total, 2,434 square kilometres of our land and 96 settlements have already been liberated since the beginning of this offensive operation,’ he added in his daily speech shared on social media.

A senior British source told The Times that President Putin’s army could be forced out of the eastern Donbas region by the end of the year, if Ukrainian troops keep up their momentum.

A series of explosions rocked the city in eastern Ukraine, sending towering plumes of illuminated smoke into the sky and triggering a series of secondary explosions

A series of explosions rocked the city in eastern Ukraine, sending towering plumes of illuminated smoke into the sky and triggering a series of secondary explosions

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky said yesterday that Ukrainian forces had recaptured nearly 2,500 square kilometres (965 square miles) of territory

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said yesterday that Ukrainian forces had recaptured nearly 2,500 square kilometres (965 square miles) of territory

But another touted goal – recapturing the Crimean peninsula after it was annexed by Russia in 2014 – may prove even more difficult.

Tacticians estimate that any attempt to regain Crimea would involve large casualties and a slower military campaign.

Ben Hodges, former commander of US forces in Europe, said Russia’s offensive is now faltering. 

He said: ‘Based on all the things we are seeing, it has the feeling of a collapse, at least in the Donbas area, and I do believe the Russians will be pushed beyond the February 23 line by the end of the year. It’s an army that’s been defeated.’

If Ukraine were to successfully recapture the southern port city of Kherson, Mr Hodges added that he thinks it is possible they could retake Crimea next summer, making use of long-range rocket launchers supplied by Britain and America.

He added: ‘Once they do, then frankly the people in Crimea are trapped.’

The grad rocket firing yesterday as a counterattack launched by the Ukrainian forces against Russia continues outside Kherson city

The grad rocket firing yesterday as a counterattack launched by the Ukrainian forces against Russia continues outside Kherson city

Ukraine is said to be hankering for America to supply them with even longer range missiles, in particular the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) that can strike targets from 190 miles – making a recapture of Crime even more plausible.

Zelensky has also pushed to punish Russia in other areas.

He urged Brussels to ramp up pressure on Russia’s energy sector, a day after the EU imposed a fresh round of sanctions on Moscow that included the expansion of import/export bans.

The International Monetary Fund announced yesterday that it will provide $1.3 billion in emergency aid to Ukraine.

The package will help meet Ukraine’s ‘urgent balance of payment needs… while playing a catalytic role for future financial support from Ukraine’s creditors and donors,’ the crisis lender said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the Norwegian Nobel Committee yesterday awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to human rights organisations in his country and Ukraine, and to an activist jailed in Russia’s ally Belarus.

Berit Reiss-Andersen, the committee’s chair, said the honour went to ‘three outstanding champions of human rights, democracy and peaceful co-existence’.

Jailed Belarusian human rights activist Ales Byalyatski (pictured), Russian human rights organisation Memorial and Ukrainian human rights organisation Center for Civil Liberties have won the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize

Mr Putin this week illegally claimed four regions of Ukraine as Russian territory, including the Zaporizhzhia region that is home to Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, whose reactors were shut down last month.

Fighting near the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant has alarmed the UN’s atomic energy watchdog, which yesterday doubled to four the number of its inspectors monitoring plant safeguards.

An accident there could release ten times more potentially lethal radiation than the world’s worst nuclear disaster at Chernobyl in Ukraine 36 years ago, Ukrainian environmental protection minister Ruslan Strilets said on Friday.

With its army losing ground to a Ukrainian counter-offensive in the south and east, Russia has deployed unmanned, disposable Iranian-made drones that are cheaper and less sophisticated than missiles but can still damage ground targets.

The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War said Russia’s use of the explosives-packed drones was unlikely to affect the course of the war.

The death toll from missile strikes on apartment buildings in the southern city of Zaporizhzhia (pictured) has risen to 14

The death toll from missile strikes on apartment buildings in the southern city of Zaporizhzhia (pictured) has risen to 14

‘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.

In other Moscow-annexed areas, Russia’s Defence Ministry reported on Friday that its forces had repelled Ukrainian advances near the city of Lyman and retaken three villages elsewhere in the eastern Donetsk region.

The ministry also claimed that Russian forces had prevented Ukrainian troops from advancing on several villages in the southern Kherson region.

In Ukraine’s Dnipropetrovsk region, Russian troops shelled the city of Nikopol overnight, killing one person, wounding another and damaging buildings, natural gas pipelines and electricity systems, the governor reported.

Nikopol lies along the Dnieper River across from Russian-held territory near the nuclear power plant.

The city has been shelled frequently for weeks.

Fighting near the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant (pictured) has alarmed the UN's atomic energy watchdog

Fighting near the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant (pictured) has alarmed the UN’s atomic energy watchdog

The trail of Russia’s devastation and death from areas where its troops retreated became clearer on Friday.

A report by Ukrainian first deputy minister of internal affairs Yevhen Yenin revealed that 530 bodies of civilians have been found in Ukraine’s north-eastern Kharkiv region since September 7.

The residents killed during the Russian occupation included 257 men, 225 women and 19 children, with 29 people unidentified, Yenin said.

Most of the bodies were found in a previously disclosed mass grave in the city of Izium.

According to Yenin, the recovered bodies bore signs of gunshots, explosions and torture.

Some people had ropes around their necks, hands tied behind their back, bullet wounds to their knees and broken ribs.

Authorities have identified 22 torture sites in parts of the Kharkiv region that Ukrainian forces recently liberated, said Serhiy Bolvinov, a regional police official.

In recently recaptured Lyman, workers found 200 individual graves and a mass grave with an unknown number of victims, Donetsk governor Pavlo Kyrylenko reported on Telegram.

In Sviatohirsk, 24 kilometres (15 miles) from Lyman, 21 bodies of civilians were reburied.



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