Ukraine live briefing: Missile attacks hit cities across Ukraine

Ukrainian servicemen move toward the front line near the city of Bakhmut on March 8. (Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images)
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Missiles rained down and blasts went off across Ukraine early Thursday. Russian missiles struck the Kharkiv region 15 times, the governor said on Telegram, while officials in Odessa said that they were experiencing a “massive” missile attack, with no casualties reported so far. In Kyiv, air raid alerts blared for more than four hours, the Kyiv regional military administration said on Telegram.

There were strikes on critical infrastructure and residential buildings in both Kharkiv and Odessa. Officials in Kharkiv are working to determine whether there were casualties. In Odessa, the government said they’ve intercepted missiles but cautioned residents to stay in shelters ahead of a second wave of attacks.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Moscow could soon take control of Bakhmut, the site of a bloody, months-long battle between Russian and Ukrainian forces. Russia has “suffered big losses,” he told reporters Wednesday, “but at the same time, we cannot rule out that Bakhmut may eventually fall in the coming days.”

Here’s the latest on the war and its ripple effects across the globe.

Key developments

  • Ukrainian officials on Wednesday denied any role in the September explosions that damaged the Nord Stream gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea, after Western diplomats and intelligence officials said they suspect pro-Ukrainian saboteurs may have been behind the blasts. Russian officials also dismissed the report, claiming without evidence that the United States was seeking to hide its own involvement in the attack.
  • Putin is prepared to keep fighting for years, U.S. Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines told a panel of senators. “Putin most likely calculates that time works in his favor,” Haines told the Senate Intelligence Committee during an annual hearing on global threats. Ukraine also faces difficulties, she added. “At present, the Ukrainian armed forces remain locked in a struggle to defend against Russian offensives across eastern Ukraine.
  • E.U. defense ministers gathered Wednesday in Sweden for talks over support for Kyiv. The discussions centered on Ukraine’s need for ammunition. “We need to deliver more, but we need to deliver faster,” Josep Borrell, the top E.U. diplomat, said at a news conference. He proposed a plan to mobilize more than $1 billion for ammunition shipments from existing European stocks, to allocate a similar sum to coordinate procurement of more ammunition through the European Defense Agency, and to build up the bloc’s defense industry.

Battleground updates

  • The head of the Wagner mercenary group claimed that his forces have taken control of the “entire eastern part” of Bakhmut, which has been at the center of intense fighting. Yevgeniy Prigozhin made the claims in an audio recording released Wednesday on Telegram. He said the group controls “everything east of the Bakhmutka River” that runs through Bakhmut. Neither Russia nor Ukraine has made similar claims about Bakhmut, and Prigozhin has a history of prematurely claiming victories.

Why Russia and Ukraine are fighting over Bakhmut

  • Shoigu’s visit to Ukraine last week could have been part of the continuing rivalry between the Russian military and the Wagner Group, the British Defense Ministry said. In its Wednesday update, the ministry said there was a “realistic possibility” that the trip was in part a response to Prigozhin’s own visit to forces fighting on the front lines. In recent weeks, Prigozhin has leveled his strongest criticism yet at Russia’s regular military forces, claiming that high numbers of his fighters have been killed because they were deprived of ammunition.
  • The United Nations says it believes that a video appearing to show the killing of a Ukrainian prisoner of war may be genuine. “Based on a preliminary examination, we believe that the video may be authentic,” a spokeswoman from the U.N. Human Rights Office told the Agence France-Presse news agency. The 12-second clip, which The Post has not independently verified, went viral Monday and sparked anger in Ukraine, where there have been calls for investigations into war crimes committed during the Russian invasion. The execution of prisoners is expressly forbidden under the Geneva conventions.

Global impact

  • U.N. Secretary General António Guterres visited Kyiv, where he discussed the Black Sea grain export deal with Zelensky. The initiative, brokered last year by the United Nations and Turkey, is set for renewal on March 18, but only if all parties agree. Some 25 million tons of grain and other foodstuffs have been exported under the agreement, according to the Joint Coordination Center tasked with monitoring it, though exports have slowed in recent weeks. Russia has indicated that it wants barriers to its own agricultural exports to be removed for the deal to continue.
  • Violent clashes broke out in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, in response to a controversial new bill that rights groups say will restrict media freedom and civil society. The foreign influence bill, which passed a first vote in parliament on Tuesday, is similar to legislation in Russia that has been expanded and used against government critics, and it has fueled fears that the Georgian government could be moving closer to Moscow.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky invited U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to visit Ukraine, to see firsthand “the supply routes, every shell, every bullet, every dollar [of aid],” Zelensky told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, according to a preview clip of the interview aired Wednesday morning. McCarthy told CNN he doesn’t plan to visit, repeating there would be “no blank checks” for Ukraine.

From our correspondents

In race to arm Ukraine, U.S. faces cracks in its manufacturing might: The Scranton Army Ammunition Plant, one of a network of facilities involved in producing the U.S. Army’s 155-mm artillery round, is ground zero for the Biden administration’s scramble to accelerate the supply of weapons that Ukraine needs if its military is to prevail in the war with Russia, Missy Ryan reports.

The Pentagon’s plan for scaling up production of the shells over the next two years marks a breakthrough in the effort to quench Ukraine’s thirst for weapons. But the conflict has laid bare deep-seated problems that the United States must surmount to effectively manufacture the arms required not just to aid its allies but also for America’s self-defense should conflict erupt with Russia, China or another major power.

Shane Harris, Souad Mekhennet, Greg Miller and Michael Birnbaum contributed to this report.