Russia has targeted Zaporizhzhia with explosive-packed “kamikaze drones” for the first time, as the death toll from a missile strike on an apartment building in the city rose to 11.
The regional governor, Oleksandr Starukh, said Iranian-made Shahed-136 drones damaged two infrastructure facilities, in the city. He said other missiles also struck the city again, injuring one person.
With its army losing ground to Ukraine’s counteroffensive, Moscow has started to deploy drones to attack Ukrainian targets. According to Ukrainian military officials, “kamikaze drones” are cheaper and less sophisticated than missiles but have proved effective at causing damage to targets on the ground. The Shahed-136 drones are able to remain airborne for several hours and circle over potential targets before being flown into enemy troops, armor or buildings and exploding on impact.
On Monday, the Iranian foreign ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanani denied supplying the drones to Russia, calling the claims “baseless”. However, the Ukrainian military said its forces had shot down more than 20 drones over the last 24 hours and that most were Iranian-made.
On Wednesday, Russia allegedly deployed another six drones to bombard Bila Tserkva, a city about 55 miles (90km) from Kyiv, injuring one person, according to the regional governor.
“This is a new threat for all the defense forces [of Ukraine] and we need to use all available means to try to counter it,” the Ukrainian air force spokesperson Yuriy Ihnat said, comparing the drone’s small size with an artillery shell.
Kyiv says Moscow started using Iranian drones in September, targeting electrical power stations, electricity transmission lines and waterworks with long-range weaponry.
According to the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War, the Iranian drones are unlikely to significantly affect the course of the war.
“They have used many drones against civilian targets in rear areas, likely hoping to generate non-linear effects through terror. Such efforts are not succeeding,” wrote analysts at the thinktank.
Ukraine’s state emergency service said the death toll from missile strikes on Zaporizhzhia city on Thursday had increased to 11 after seven rockets were fired before dawn into residential buildings.
At least 15 people are still missing, according to city officials.
“There are neither military nor important objects near the hit site, only civilian buildings and apartment buildings,” Starukh said.
Thursday’s attacks came a day after Russia said it considered the whole of Zaporizhzhia province, including Zaporizhzhia city, part of Russia. A law signed by Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, clarified that Russia was laying claim to all four regions it had annexed, illegally, in their entirety – despite the fact Russia does not wholly control any of them and is in retreat.
Zaporizhzhia, close to Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, has been the target of several fatal attacks in the past week. Last week, 30 people died and 88 were injured when a rocket hit the city. Some of the victims were waiting in a queue on the outskirts of the city to enter the occupied territories while others were waiting at a bus stop.
In a separate development, at least five people were killed and as many injured after Ukrainian forces struck a bus while shelling a strategically important bridge in the Russian-controlled part of Ukraine’s southern Kherson region, Russia’s Tass news agency has reported.
Ukraine is continuing to make advances in the east and south of the country, with Russian troops retreating under pressure on both fronts.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy announced in his nightly address on Thursday that Ukrainian forces had liberated more than 500 sq km of territory in Kherson alone since the start of October.
Russian-backed separatist forces however said on Friday they had captured ground in Donetsk, their first claim of new gains, saying they had captured a series of villages near the industrial town of Bakhmut, which has been under Russian shelling for weeks.
“On the territory of the Donetsk People’s Republic, a grouping of troops of the Donetsk and Lugansk republics, with fire support from Russian forces, liberated Otradovka, Veselaya Dolina and Zaitsevo,” the separatists said on social media.
Putin appeared to admit to losses on Wednesday in a televised call with teachers, saying the Kremlin was “working on the assumption that the situation in the new territories will stabilize”.
In a video addressed to Russian troops on Friday, Ukraine’s defense minister, Oleksiy Reznikov, urged them to lay down their arms, promising them “life and safety” if they did so.
“We guarantee life, security and justice to everyone who refuses to fight immediately,” Reznikov said. “And we will get a tribunal for those who gave criminal orders. You can still save Russia from tragedy, and the Russian army from humiliation.”
Reznikov said Russian troops had been “deceived and betrayed” by the Kremlin, citing how Moscow’s soldiers were now paying “with blood for someone’s fantasies and false goals”.
Military analysts say Russia is at its weakest point, having lost masses of equipment and fighters, and is unlikely to be able to regain any ground unless its mobilization proves a success. Russia announced the partial mobilization of 300,000 men in September after it lost control of half of Ukraine’s north-east Kharkiv province.