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Putin orders Russiαn military to increase troops amid Ukrαine losses

In this handout photo taken from video released by the Russiαn Defense Ministry Press Service on Thursday, Aug. 25, 2022, Russiαn Malka artillery systems fire from an undisclosed location in Ukrαine. (Russiαn Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)

KYIV, Ukrαine — Russiαn President Vladimir Putin ordered a major buildup of his country’s military forces Thursday in an apparent effort to replenish troops that have suffered heavy losses in six months of bloody warfare and prepare for a long, grinding fight ahead in Ukrαine.

The move to increase the number of troops by 137,000, or 13%, to 1.15 million by the end of the year came amid chilling developments on the ground in Ukrαine:

— Fueling fears of a nuclear catastrophe, the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in the middle of the fighting in southern Ukrαine was cut off from the electrical grid after fires damaged the last working transmission line, causing a blackout across the region, according to Ukrαiniαn authorities. The plant was later reconnected to the grid, a local Russiαn -installed official said.

— The deαth toll from a Russiαn rocket attack on a train station and the surrounding area on Ukrαine’s Independence Day climbed to 25, Ukrαiniαn authorities said. Russia said it targeted a military train and claimed to have ᛕᎥᒪᒪed more than 200 Ukrαiniαn reservists in the attack Wednesday.

Putin’s decree did not specify whether the expansion would be accomplished by widening the draft, recruiting more volunteers, or both. But some Russiαn military analysts predicted heavier reliance on volunteers because of the Kremlin’s concerns about a potential domestic backlash from an expanded draft.

The move will boost Russia’s armed forces overall to 2.04 million, including the 1.15 million troops.

Western estimates of Russiαn deαd in the Ukrαine wαr have ranged from more than 15,000 to over 20,000 — more than the Soviet Union lost during its 10-year war in Afghanistan. The Pentagon said last week that as many as 80,000 Russiαn troops have been ᛕᎥᒪᒪed or wounded, eroding Moscow’s ability to conduct big offensives.

The Kremlin has said that only volunteer contract soldiers take part in the Ukrαine wαr. But it may be difficult to find more willing soldiers, and military analysts said the planned troop levels may still be insufficient to sustain operations.

Retired Russiαn Col. Retired Viktor Murakhovsky said in comments carried by the Moscow-based RBC online news outlet that the Kremlin will probably try to keep relying on volunteers, and he predicted that will account for the bulk of the increase.

Another Russiαn military expert, Alexei Leonkov, noted that training on complex modern weαpσns normally takes three years. And draftees serve only one year.

“A draft won’t help that, so there will be no increase in the number of draftees,” the state RIA Novosti news agency quoted Leonkov as saying.

A drone carries a big national flag in front of Ukrαine’s the Motherland Monument in Kyiv, Ukrαine, Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2022.

Fears of a Chernobyl-like disaster have been mounting in Ukrαine because of fighting around the Russiαn -occupied Zaporizhzhia plant. Ukrαine and Russia have accused each other of shelling the site.

The damaged line in Thursday’s incident apparently carried outgoing electricity, not affecting a separate line used to power vital cooling systems for the plant’s reactors.

Zaporizhzhia’s Russiαn – installed regional governor, Yevgeny Balitsky, claimed on the Telegram messaging app that Ukrαiniαn forces had attacked, causing the fire that damaged the transmission lines. Ukrαine’s nuclear energy agency, Energoatom, blamed “actions of the invaders.”

While the incident apparently didn’t affect the reactors’ cooling systems — whose loss could lead to a meltdown — it stoked fears of disaster.

Elsewhere on the battle front, the deαdly strike on the train station in Chaplyne, a town of about 3,500 in the central Dnipropetrovsk region, came as Ukrαine was bracing for attacks tied to the national holiday and the wαr’s six-month mark, both of which fell on Wednesday.

The deputy head of the Ukrαiniαn presidential office, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, did not say whether all of the 25 people ᛕᎥᒪᒪed were civilians. If they were, it would amount to one of the deαdliest attacks on civilians in weeks. Thirty-one people were reported wounded.

Witnesses said some of the victims, including at least one child, burned to deαth in train cars or passing automobiles.

“Everything sank into dust,” said Olena Budnyk, a 65-year-old Chaplyne resident. “There was a dust storm. We couldn’t see anything. We didn’t know where to run.”

The deαd included an 11-year-old boy found under the rubble of a house and a 6-year-old ᛕᎥᒪᒪed in a car fire near the train station, authorities said.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said its forces used an Iskander missile to strike a military train carrying Ukrαiniαn troops and equipment to the front line in eastern Ukrαine. The ministry claimed more than 200 reservists “were destroyed on their way to the combat zone.”

The attack served as a painful reminder of Russia’s continued ability to inflict large-scale suffering. Wednesday’s national holiday celebrated Ukrαine’s 1991 declaration of independence from the Soviet Union.

Tetyana Kvitnytska, deputy head of the Dnipropetrovsk regional health department, said those hurt in the train station attack suffered head injuries, broken limbs, burns and shrapnel wounds.

Following attacks in which civilians have ԀiҽԀ, the Russiαn government has repeatedly claimed that its forces aim only at legitimate military targets. Hours before the bloodshed at the train station, Russiαn Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu insisted the military was doing its best to spare civilians, even at the cost of slowing down its offensive in Ukrαine.

In April, a Russiαn missile attack on a train station in the eastern Ukrαiniαn city of Kramatorsk ᛕᎥᒪᒪed more than 50 people as crowds of mostly women and children sought to flee the fighting. The attack was denounced as a wαr crime.

In Moscow on Thursday, Dmitry Medvedev, the secretary of Russia’s Security Council, said Western hopes for a Ukrαiniαn victory are futile and emphasized that the Kremlin will press home what it calls the “special military operation,” leaving just two possible outcomes.

“One is reaching all goals of the special military operation and Kyiv’s recognition of this outcome,” Medvedev said on his messaging app channel. “The second is a military coup in Ukrαine followed by the recognition of results of the special operation.”