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Ukraine hits oil refineries deep inside Russian territory, as Kyiv steps up drone attacks before Putin’s likely re-election

By Rob Picheta, Victoria Butenko, Martin Goillandeau, Josh Pennington, Olga Voitovych and Anna Chernova, CNN

(CNN) — Ukraine has launched drone attacks on at least three oil refineries deep inside Russia, as Kyiv intensifies its cross-border strikes days before President Vladimir Putin’s anticipated re-election.

A Ukrainian defense source told CNN on Wednesday that Ukraine is “implementing a well-planned strategy to decrease Russian economic potential.”

It struck three Russian oil refineries targeted in the cities of Ryazan, about 130 miles southeast of Moscow; Kstovo, in the Nizhny Novgorod region, nearly 300 miles east of the capital; and Kirishi in Russia’s northwest. The trio of facilities are among Russia’s largest refineries, the source said.

A fourth facility – the Novoshakhtinsky oil refinery in Rostov-on-Don – was also hit, a representative of the Defense Intelligence of Ukraine said Wednesday.

It marked the second consecutive day of Ukrainian attacks on Russian energy sites, and the locations targeted represent a spate of attacks well within Russia’s territory.

“Our goal is to take away our enemy’s resources and decrease the flow of oil money and fuel Russia is using directly on the war,” the source told CNN.

They came after a chaotic day on the Russian side of the Ukrainian border, during which pro-Ukrainian groups of Russian fighters said they launched cross-border attacks and claimed to have gained control of the village of Tyotkino in Russia’s Kursk region.

The village remained under fire “all day” on Wednesday, the regional governor said.

The fallout from the attack continued into Wednesday. The Freedom for Russia Legion, a group of Russian dissidents fighting for Ukraine which has previously claimed responsibility for incursions into Russia, said in a series of posts on Telegram on Wednesday that its fighters had destroyed a command center in the village of Tyotkino in the Kursk region, and were advancing further.

CNN cannot independently verify the group’s claims. However, CNN was able to geolocate video footage posted by the group that shows a building engulfed in smoke and flames that was located in Tyotkino.

“There was a control center and there is no control center,” the group said. “We are bringing a crisis to the bloody regime’s defense industry closer.”

Strikes come as Russia’s election nears

Russia’s defense ministry said Wednesday its air defenses destroyed 58 Ukrainian drones overnight, including some that traveled as far as the Leningrad region, which borders Finland, supporting Kyiv’s claims.

The regional governor in Ryazan, Pavel Malkov, said a fire broke out at the facility there but has since been extinguished. He said two people were injured.

Social media video from the refinery complex, one of Russia’s largest, showed a large plume of smoke billowing from a building in the distance.

Later on Wednesday, Andrii Yusov of the Defense Intelligence of Ukraine said the Novoshakhtinsky oil refinery in Rostov-on-Don had been attacked but that Kyiv has not confirmed involvement.

“Despite the fact that it seems to be an oil plant, it is a military facility used to supply and maintain the occupation forces,” Yusov said during an interview on national television. “The company’s operations are currently suspended. This means that the enemy will have problems and disruptions in their plans and our defenders will have additional opportunities and time.”

A day earlier, Russian authorities reported at least 25 drone attacks, with local officials in the Oryol and Nizhny Novgorod regions reporting hits to fuel and energy facilities.

No casualties have been reported from either Tuesday or Wednesday’s attacks.

But an apparent cross-border incursion on Tuesday saw attacks launched in the village of Odnorobovka in Ukraine’s Kharkiv region, and in the nearby Russian villages of Nekhoteevka and Spodariushino in Belgorod, according to Russian authorities.

Russia’s Belgorod Region Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said 10 civilians were injured and six were hospitalized in the region on Tuesday.

In the neighboring Kursk region, the Russian village of Tyotkino has been under fire “all day” on Wednesday after pro-Ukrainian groups said they had it under control, the region’s Governor Roman Starovoyt said.

A building and a store have been damaged, he said.

“As soon as it is safe to do so, a door-to-door search will be carried out in the village. We will certainly provide assistance to all owners of damaged property in its restoration,” Starovoyt said.

As well as targeting Russia’s deep oil reserves, Kyiv’s latest strikes may be partially intended to bring home to Russians the impact of the war just as the country prepares for a presidential election.

The vote is essentially certain to hand Putin a fifth term, extending his rule into the 2030s. Voting will take place over three days from Friday, with the president sailing towards another spell in power in a ballot that is not considered free or fair and in which he faces no genuine competition.

During a lengthy interview on state television channel Rossiya 1 on Wednesday, Putin said Ukrainian attacks on Belgorod and Kursk are happening amid Kyiv’s “failures” on the battlefield.

“All this is happening against the backdrop of failures on the line of contact, on the front line. They did not achieve any of the goals they set for themselves last year,” Putin said. “Against the backdrop of those failures, they need to show at least something, and, mainly, attention should be focused on the information side of the matter.”

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CNN’s Christian Edwards and Alex Stambaugh contributed reporting

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