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Russian shelling on Thursday killed three women in the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson and two people in eastern Donetsk region, local officials said.

Prosecutors said the three women were killed on a street in Kherson, a town abandoned by Russian troops late last year along with other settlements on the west bank of the Dnipro River. Russian forces routinely shell Kherson and nearby areas from positions on the river’s east bank.

Prosecutors in Donetsk region in the east said two people died when Russian forces shelled Krasnohorivka, west of the Russian-held city of Donetsk and near the long-contested town of Maryinka.

Earlier Thursday, Russia carried out a big wave of air strikes on three Ukrainian regions in which Ukrainian officials said some attack drones had hit their targets but did not say what was damaged.

Ukrainian air defences shot down 34 of 44 incoming “Shahed” drones, the Air Force said. The strikes targeted the regions of Mykolaiv and Odesa in the south and Kirovohrad in central Ukraine, the military said.

“We had an extremely difficult night,” Andriy Raikovych, Kirovohrad’s Governor, wrote on the Telegram messaging app. “Some of the Shaheds over the region were destroyed. However, there were also hits.”

There were no casualties and no damage to civilian infrastructure, he said. There were no reports of significant damage in Mykolaiv.

The Odesa region’s Governor, Oleh Kiper, praised the region’s air defences after the latest wave of Russian attacks since Moscow’s full-scale invasion more than 19 months ago.

“No hits or destruction. There were no casualties. There were only a few small fires on dry grass as a result of the falling wreckage of a downed Shahed,” he said. Forty-four is the largest number of drones Russia used for a single attack this month, official data showed.

“Fighter aircraft, anti-aircraft missile units and mobile fire groups were engaged to repel the attack,” the military said on Telegram.

Russia conducts regular long-range missile and drone attacks on targets in Ukraine, with recent attacks often targeting grain and port facilities and officials warning that Russia will attack energy infrastructure during the bitter cold of winter.

Kyiv, which has launched a counteroffensive against Russia’s occupying forces, has been discussing with allies how to beef up its air defences. Those discussions included talks in Kyiv between President Volodymyr Zelensky and Britain’s new Defence Minister, Grant Shapps.

In an earlier statement, the governor of the Mykolaiv region said a Russian missile hit an unnamed infrastructure facility late on Wednesday on the outskirts of the city, but that the fire that broke out there was promptly extinguished.

Meanwhile, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, on an unannounced visit to Kyiv, said Thursday that Ukrainian forces were “gradually gaining ground” in their counteroffensive against Russian forces.

Speaking at a joint press conference with Mr. Zelensky, Mr. Stoltenberg said “every metre that Ukrainian forces regain is a metre that Russia loses.

“And there is a stark contrast: Ukrainians are fighting for their families, their future, their freedom,” he added. “Moscow is fighting for imperial delusions.”

Mr. Zelensky stressed Ukraine’s need for more air defence against Russian attacks, saying Moscow had used more than 40 Shahed drones in strikes on Ukraine the previous night alone.

“And so it is almost every night. In the conditions of such intense attacks against Ukrainians, against our cities, ports – which are important for global food security – we need a corresponding increase in pressure on Russia and a corresponding increase in our air shield,” he said.

Mr. Stoltenberg said he was “constantly pushing” NATO allies to provide more support to Ukraine and speed up delivery, “not least” of air defence systems.

Mr. Stoltenberg announced that NATO now had overarching framework contracts in place with arms companies worth €2.4-billion (roughly $3.4-billion) for ammunition, including €1-billion in firm orders.

He said such contracts would allow NATO members to replenish their depleted stockpiles while also continuing to provide Ukraine with ammunition, a key factor in the war.

Mr. Stoltenberg also condemned Russian strikes near Ukraine’s border with NATO member Romania. He said there was no evidence such strikes were a deliberate attack on Romania but branded them “reckless” and “destabilizing.”

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