Russian drone debris downed power lines near a Ukraine nuclear plant. A new winter barrage is likely

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russia fired almost a dozen Shahed drones against Ukrainian targets and falling debris from an intercepted drone damaged power lines near a nuclear plant in the country’s west, knocking out electricity to hundreds of people, officials said Wednesday. Ukraine’s air force said it stopped all the drones that were launched.

For the fourth day in a row, the Kremlin’s forces took aim at the Ukrainian region of Khmelnytskyi, injuring 16 people, according to local authorities.

Ukraine’s Ministry of Energy Infrastructure said falling drone wreckage in Khmelnytskyi broke windows in the administrative building and the laboratory of the local nuclear plant and knocked out electricity to more than 1,800 customers. The plant is about 200 kilometers (120 miles) east of the border with Poland.

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said his country’s air defenses are preparing for another winter of Russian attacks on energy infrastructure as the war enters its 21st month.

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But Kyiv also plans to take the fight to Russia through its ongoing counteroffensive, he said.

“This year we will not only defend ourselves, but also respond,” Zelenskyy said. “The enemy knows this well.”

Last winter, Moscow’s drones and missiles zeroed in on Ukraine’s power grid, hoping to erode the country’s will to resist Russia’s invasion by denying civilians heating. Ukraine said it was an effort to weaponize winter.

Ukrainians are bracing for another onslaught.

The looming wintry weather could further hamper battlefield movements in a conflict that is largely deadlocked and compel the warring sides to focus more on long-range strikes, including drones that have played a key role in the war.

The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington think tank, said Russia “is likely trying to expand and diversify its arsenal of drones, missiles and guided bombs for strikes against Ukrainian critical infrastructure” ahead of the change in weather.

“Russia appears to be increasingly supplementing the use of Shahed … drones with cheaper and lighter domestically produced drone variants during strikes on Ukrainian infrastructure,” it said in an assessment late Tuesday.

Russian news reports have mentioned one such drone, Italmas, which reportedly has a range of about 200 kilometers (120 miles), allowing Moscow’s forces to strike targets far beyond the front line. Another is an upgraded version of the Lancet drone. It has an extended range compared to its previous version, which has been used extensively on the battlefield.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visited his country’s forces deployed in eastern Ukraine, his ministry said Wednesday, meeting with senior officers in the southern part of the Donetsk region to discuss preparations for the winter, according to the defense ministry.

The chief of the eastern group of forces, Lt. Gen. Andrei Kuzmenko, reported on forming dedicated drone units in the area and on storm units’ tactics in capturing Ukrainian strongholds, the ministry said.

It also said that four Ukrainian drones were shot down over Russia’s western Bryansk region early Wednesday. Another was jammed and forced down near Sevastopol in Russia-occupied Crimea.

In Ukraine, at least three civilians were killed in the east and south over the previous 24 hours, and 22 people were injured in the west and southeast, the presidential office reported Wednesday.

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Associated Press writer Yuras Karmanau in Tallinn, Estonia, contributed to this report.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine