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By Dario Thuburn with Cecile Feuillaire in Kramatorsk
Russian artillery pounded Ukraine’s second largest city Kharkiv Thursday after Moscow announced it was expanding its war aims, even as Russian gas flows to Europe resumed through the Nord Stream pipeline. news online
The attacks on the eastern city — scarred by weeks of Russian shelling — came after 10 days of scheduled work ended on the Nord Stream gas pipeline that had spurred fears of a permanent cut-off.
Prosecutors said three people had been killed and 23 more injured in Kharkiv, where some semblance of normal life had been returning after Ukrainian forces pushed back Russian troops from the city limits.
“The enemy is firing chaotically and brutally at the city. Stay in shelters!” the governor, Oleg Synegubov, wrote on social media.
In Kramatorsk in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, which has seen some of fiercest fighting, a school that Ukrainian officials said was being used as a food aid storage point was also struck.
The school’s deputy director Olena Shmadchenko, 56, looked at the destroyed building in despair.
“I have been working at this school for 16 years. It was my home!” she told AFP.
- Averted nuclear ‘catastrophe’ –
Russian troops invaded Ukraine on February 24 and the war has left thousands dead, forced millions to flee their homes — and raised fears of a nuclear disaster.
Moscow accused Ukrainian forces Thursday of having fired on Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, which is in Russian-controlled territory, and claimed a “catastrophe” was avoided “by luck”.
Ukraine — without responding to the allegations — said Russia was storing heavy weapons and ammunition at the Zaporizhzhia plant and that any accident there could lead to crisis worse than the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
In an exclusive interview with AFP, Alexander Lukashenko, the strongman leader of Belarus and close Kremlin ally, meanwhile urged Moscow and Kyiv relaunch negotiations to avoid a nuclear escalation.
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“Further (ahead) lies the abyss of nuclear war. There’s no need to go there,” said the leader of Belarus, which was used by Russian troops in February as a launching pad to attack Ukraine.
The resumption of gas supplies from Russia to Europe through Germany came a day after Europe unveiled emergency measures to circumvent Russian energy “blackmail”.
Klaus Mueller, head of Germany’s energy regulator, said that by late morning gas flows were on track to return to 40 percent of the pipeline’s capacity — the same reduced level as before the maintenance work.
The German government had been worried Moscow would not reopen the taps on the Nord Stream pipeline after Russia in recent months severely curbed flows in retaliation against sanctions.
Despite efforts within the bloc to reduce dependence on Russian energy supplies, Moscow’s closest ally within the European Union, Hungary, announced Thursday it was seeking to increase gas deliveries from Russia.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia would “consider” Budapest’s request for more gas this year after his Hungarian counterpart Peter Szijjarto visited Moscow Thursday.
- ‘Different’ war aims for Russia –
Western powers have stepped up arms supplies to Ukraine but President Volodymyr Zelensky has asked for more and speedier deliveries.
The United Kingdom became the latest country Thursday to announce it is re-upping military supplies with artillery, “hundreds of drones and hundreds more anti-tank weapons” for Ukraine in the coming weeks.
“The scale and range of equipment we are providing demonstrates the strength of our resolve,” Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said, according to a statement.
His announcement came a day after Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin said Washington would send four more M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (Himars), which have notably boosted Kyiv’s capabilities.
Russia has warned about arms supplies and said they mean Moscow will no longer be focused only on wresting control of the east Ukraine regions of Lugansk and Donetsk, which have been partially controlled by pro-Moscow rebels for years.
In its latest package of sanctions this week, the EU imposed an embargo on Russian gold imports and froze assets at Russia’s largest bank.
The bloc followed up Thursday with asset freezes and visa bans on 10 Syrians on Thursday, accusing them of recruiting mercenaries to fight for Russia in its invasion.
Refugees who fled Ukraine in the early weeks of the war have found themselves in limbo.
At a refugee centre at the Global Expo exhibition centre in Warsaw, some 1,500 people have been camped out in what they thought would only be a temporary shelter before finding more permanent housing or being able to return to Ukraine.
“All I hope for now is to return home… or else to be relocated somewhere in Poland,” said Olena Polonitska, who has been living at the centre for four months with her 11-year-old son Kyrill.
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