Ukraine suffers massive Russian shelling, toughens conscription

Zelenski, visiting Lithuania on Thursday, said infrastructure was hit in Kiev, in Zaporiyia and Odessa in the south, in Lviv (west) and also near the Polish border 
Personas cruzan un puente destruido mientras evacuan la ciudad de Irpin, al noroeste de Kiev, durante fuertes bombardeos y bombardeos el 5 de marzo de 2022 - AFP/ARIS MESSINIS
People cross a destroyed bridge as people are evacuated in Ukraine - AFP/ARIS MESSINIS
  1. Controversial law

Ukraine on Thursday adopted a law toughening conscription to mobilise more men to deal with the Russian push, which launched a massive new night-time attack on energy infrastructure. 

"Overnight, Russia fired more than 40 missiles and 40 drones at Ukraine," hitting "essential infrastructure", President Volodmir Zelenski said on the social networking site X. 

"Some Shahed missiles and drones were successfully shot down. Unfortunately, only a part of them," Zelenski said. The Ukrainian air force said it managed to shoot down 39 drones and 18 missiles. 

Zelenski, who was visiting Lithuania on Thursday, said infrastructure was hit in Kiev, in Zaporiyia and Odessa in the south, in Lviv (west) and also near the Polish border. 

Russian attacks left four dead in the southern city of Mykolaiv, the Ukrainian army said, after an initial death toll of two. 

"The enemy again attacked our energy infrastructure," Ukrainian Energy Minister Guerman Galushchenko said on Telegram. The attacks targeted "production facilities and transmission systems" in the regions of Kiev, Kharkov (northeast), Zaporiyia and Lviv, he said. 

A large thermal power plant near Kiev was "completely destroyed", a representative of the company that manages it told the Interfax-Ukraine news agency. 

The Russian Defence Ministry said that "all targets were hit", and argued that the shelling was a response to Ukrainian attacks in recent weeks on Russian territory, particularly against refineries.

Speaking from Lithuania, where he arrived on Thursday, Zelenski again called on his partners to help strengthen Ukrainian air defence and "consolidate international support [for Kiev] in order to defeat Russian terror". 

Zelenski announced the signing of a ten-year bilateral security agreement with neighbouring Latvia in Vilnius. 

"The agreement provides for annual Latvian military support to Ukraine equivalent to 0.25% of the GDP. Latvia commits to assist Ukraine for ten years in cyber defence, demining and unmanned technologies," Zelenski explained on social media.

Militares ucranianos - PHOTO/AFP/ANATOLII STEPANOV

Controversial law

The Ukrainian leader was received in Vilnius by his Lithuanian counterpart Gitanas Nauseda, before attending a meeting of the so-called Three Seas Initiative, which brings together 13 EU member states located between the Baltic, the Adriatic and the Black Sea. 

Simultaneously, the Ukrainian parliament on Thursday passed a bill toughening military mobilisation at a time when Kiev is facing a shortage of volunteer soldiers, more than two years after the start of the Russian invasion in February 2022. 

The bill stiffens penalties for draft dodgers, and sparked controversy when MPs removed a provision at the last minute that provided for the demobilisation of troops who have served 36 months. 

The move comes as a bitter pill to swallow for soldiers who have been fighting on the front lines for more than two years. 

"99% of the men want to rest," Yevgen, a 39-year-old paratrooper stationed in the eastern region of Donetsk, told AFP. "There are servicemen who haven't been home for a year. It is very unfair". 

The Ukrainian army has been weighed down by the failure of a counter-offensive launched in mid-2023 and delays in the delivery of aid promised by Western powers as it tries to contain the onslaught of Russian forces on several frontline positions. 

To do so, it needs ammunition and troops, and is struggling to find volunteers, so it first broadened the conditions for mobilisation by lowering the age of conscripts from 27 to 25. 

This reform toughens the penalties for those who try to evade mobilisation, and also makes enlistment easier with the creation of a digital registry.