Kiev, Ukraine — Russian forces began an assault on two key towns in the eastern Donetsk region on Saturday and continued rocket and shelling attacks on other Ukrainian cities, including one close to Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, Ukraine’s military and local officials said.
Both the towns of Bakhmut and Avdiivka have been seen as key targets for Russia’s ongoing offensive across Ukraine’s east, with analysts saying Moscow needs to take Bakhmut if it is to advance to the regional hubs of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk.
“In the Donetsk direction, the enemy is conducting an offensive operation, concentrating its main efforts on the Bakhmut and Avdiivka directions. It is using ground attacks and army aviation,” the Ukrainian General Staff said on Facebook.
The last Russian attack on Sloviansk was on July 30, but Ukrainian forces are consolidating their positions around the city in anticipation of new fighting.
“I don’t think it will be quiet for long. Eventually, there will be an assault,” Col. Yurii Bereza, head of the Volunteer National Guard Regiment, told The Associated Press.
Russian shelling killed five civilians and wounded 14 others in the Donetsk region in the past 24 hours, Donetsk Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko wrote on Telegram on Saturday, saying two people were killed in Poprosny, and one each in Avdiivka, Soledar and Pervomaiskiy.
The governor of eastern Dnipropetrovsk region said three civilians were injured after Russian rockets fell on a residential neighborhood in Nikopol, a city across the Dnieper River from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. The nuclear plant has been under Russian control since Moscow’s troops captured it early in the war.
“After midnight, the Russian army hit the Nikopol area with (Soviet-era) Grad rockets and the Kryvyi Rih area from barrel artillery,” Valentyn Reznichenko wrote on Telegram.
Another overnight Russian missile attack damaged unspecified infrastructure in the regional capital of Zaporizhzhia. On Thursday, Russia fired 60 rockets at Nikopol, damaging 50 residential buildings in the city of 107,000 and leaving residents without electricity.
Rafael Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, warned this week that the situation was becoming more dangerous by the day at the Zaporizhzhia plant.
“All principles of nuclear safety have been violated” at the facility, he said. “What is at stake is extremely serious.”
He expressed concern about the way the facility is run and the danger associated with the fighting around it. Experts at the US-based Institute for the Study of War said Russia is shelling the area on purpose and “puts Ukraine in a difficult position.”
The Ukrainian company that runs the nuclear power plant said on Saturday that Russian troops are using the plant’s basement to hide from Ukrainian shelling and have prevented its Ukrainian staff from going there.
“Ukrainian personnel do not yet have access to these premises, so in case of new shelling, people have no shelter and are in danger,” Enerhoatom, a Ukrainian state company, said on its Telegram channel.
Enerhoatom said on Friday that Russian rockets had damaged the plant’s facilities, including a nitrogen-oxygen unit and a high-voltage power line. Local Russian-appointed officials acknowledged the damage but blamed the Ukrainians.
In other developments:
—— In southern Ukraine, two civilians were seriously injured Saturday after Russian forces fired rockets at the Black Sea port of Mykolaiv before dawn, according to regional authorities. It followed an attack on Mykolaiv on Friday afternoon that killed one person and injured 21 others.
——In the Kherson region south of Mykolaiv, the deputy mayor of the Russian-occupied town of Nova Kakhovka was in critical condition after an assassination attempt, Russian state news agency RIA-Novosti said, citing the deputy head of the Kherson region. most of which is under Russian control.
——The first of three more ships carrying thousands of tonnes of corn from Ukraine anchored north of Istanbul on Saturday awaiting inspection, the Turkish Defense Ministry said. The Panama-flagged Navi Star, which is carrying 33,000 tons of grain to Ireland, left Odesa on Friday. It will be followed by the Turkish-flagged Polarnet and the Maltese-flagged Rojen, carrying over 25,000 tonnes of maize between them from Chornomorsk. The joint inspection center was created to get grain blocked in Ukraine by the war to the world. On Friday, the center inspected its first northbound ship as it headed for Chornomorsk.
——In the north, Ukraine’s second-largest city Kharkiv and its surrounding area also came under Russian rocket fire again overnight, according to regional governor Oleh Syniehubov. An 18-year-old in Chuhuiv, a town near Kharkiv, had to be hospitalized on Saturday after he picked up an unexploded grenade. Both Chuhuiv and Kharkiv are close to the Russian border and have come under sustained Russian shelling in recent weeks.
——The nearby Sumy region, which also borders Russia, has also seen almost constant shelling and missile attacks. Its governor said Saturday that the region was hit more than 60 times from Russian territory during the previous day, and one wounded civilian had to be hospitalized.
—— On the ammunition front, Russia has started using Iranian combat drones in the war, Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said in a YouTube, adding that Tehran had transferred 46 drones to the Russian army.
Joanna Kozlowska contributed from London.
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