Ukraine’s army boasted of territorial gains near the strategically vital southern city of Kherson on Wednesday as Nato allies including the UK delivered new air defence systems in the wake of Russia’s recent missile attacks across the country.
After 48 hours of Ukrainian cities coming under heavy fire, the government in Kyiv could celebrate positive news from both the frontlines and its diplomatic efforts to secure ground-to-air systems, including anti-aircraft weapons from the UK.
Five settlements in the Beryslav district in the north-east of the Kherson region – Novovasylivka, Novogrygorivka, Nova Kamyanka, Tryfonivka, Chervone – were said to have been taken from Russian forces over the day.
Kherson was the first city to fall to Russia following the invasion on 24 February and it is a crucial strategic and symbolic target for Ukraine’s southern counterattack.
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s defence minister, Oleksiy Reznikov, lauded the arrival of the first of four Iris-T defence systems from Germany and an “expedited” delivery of the sophisticated national advanced surface-to-air missile systems (Nasams) from the US.
“A new era of air defence has begun in Ukraine,” Reznikov tweeted. “Iris-Ts from Germany are already here. Nasams are coming. This is only the beginning. And we need more.”
The UK has said it will donate cutting edge air defence weaponry, capable of shooting down cruise missiles
It did not say how many of the Amraam rockets would be sent to Ukraine, but said they would be used with Nasams.
Ben Wallace, the UK defence secretary, said: “Russia’s latest indiscriminate strikes on civilian areas in Ukraine warrant further support to those seeking to defend their nation. So today I have authorised the supply of Amraam anti-aircraft missiles to Ukraine. These weapons will help Ukraine defend its skies from attacks and strengthen their overall missile defence alongside the US Nasams.”
Russia fired more than 80 cruise missiles and 24 drones into Ukraine during the morning rush hour on Monday and continued to attack cities and critical infrastructure across the country on Tuesday.
Vladimir Putin had suggested in remarks following the mass strikes that the attacks were a response to the explosions on the Kerch Bridge connecting Russia to Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula illegally annexed by the Kremlin in 2014.
On Wednesday the Kremlin said eight people had been detained over the attack on the bridge. Russia’s security forces named a senior figure from Ukraine as being behind them, a claim dismissed in Kyiv as “nonsense”.
Half of the drones and missiles fired into Ukraine’s cities on Monday and Tuesday were shot down but dozens hit their targets, killing 20 people and highlighting the weakness of the country’s air defence.
On Wednesday, Ukraine’s prime minister, Denys Shmyhal, conceded that the strikes had badly affected the country’s electricity network as he appealed to citizens and businesses to reduce their electricity consumption during peak hours to avoid blackouts.
He called for people to reduce power consumption from 5pm to 10pm across Ukraine by 25% in order to stabilise the power system.
He said: “We are grateful to all Ukrainians who deliberately reduced electricity consumption yesterday and the night before yesterday.
“The total saving was 10%. We also thank the heads of regions, heads of communities, who took a responsible approach and cut power consumption in communities.
“The minimum permissible indoor temperature this winter will be 16 degrees celsius, while the average temperature will be 18 degrees. This is a necessity and this is our contribution to the victory. After all, it depends on each of us how we will get through this winter.”
Before a meeting of defence ministers in Brussels, the Nato secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, said other Nato members were looking to provide more ground-to-air defences to protect against Russia’s “indiscriminate” attacks across the country.
“We will address how to ramp up support for Ukraine and the top priority will be more air defence for Ukraine,” he said.
The Dutch defence minister, Kajsa Ollongren, wrote in a letter to parliament that her government would be donating €15m (£13m) worth of air defences to Ukraine. “These attacks ... can only be met with unrelenting support for Ukraine and its people,” she wrote.
Western sources suggested, however, that there was a shortage of equipment among allies to offer to Ukraine.
The continued progress of Ukrainian forces in the Kherson region is nevertheless a major boost, although the government said the Russians were continuing to hammer the southern frontlines hard.
A senior Nato official claimed that Russia had depleted a significant proportion of its precision-guided ammunition in its invasion and that its industry could not produce a number of key types of ammunition and weapon systems due to western sanctions.
The official, quoted by Reuters, said he did not know how long it would take for Russia to mobilise the 300,000 troops Moscow is aiming for, and suggested it could take a few months.
Kherson, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Luhansk are four regions that Putin recently announced to some fanfare had been annexed by Russia, a move condemned as illegal under international law. The fighting in those regions continues, however.
At least seven people were killed and eight injured in a Russian strike on a crowded market in the town of Avdiivka, the governor of the eastern Donetsk region said on Wednesday.