Kyiv, Ukraine (AP) – Russian forces began attacking two key cities in eastern Donetsk region on Saturday and continued rocket and shell attacks on other Ukrainian cities, including one near Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, Ukrainian military said and local officials.
The two cities of Bakhmut and Avdiivka are considered the main targets of the ongoing Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine. Analysts say Moscow must take Bakhmut if it wants to advance on 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 uses ground strikes and army aviation,” Ukraine’s General Staff said on Facebook.
The last Russian attack on Sloviansk was on July 30, but Ukrainian forces are strengthening their positions around the city in anticipation of fresh fighting.
“I don’t think things will stay quiet for long. Eventually there will be an attack,” Colonel Yurii Bereza, head of the National Guard Volunteer Regiment, told The Associated Press.
Russian shelling killed five civilians and wounded 14 others in the Donetsk region in the last day, 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 the eastern Dnepropetrovsk region said three civilians were injured after Russian missiles fell on a residential area in Nikopol, a town across the Dnieper from the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant. The nuclear power plant has been under Russian control since Moscow’s troops seized it at the start of the war.
“After midnight, the Russian army hit the Nikopol area with Grad rockets (from the Soviet era) and the Kryvyi Rih area with barrel artillery,” Valentyn Reznichenko wrote on Telegram.
Another Russian missile attack overnight damaged unspecified infrastructure in the regional capital, Zaporizhia. 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 at the Zaporizhia plant is becoming more dangerous by the day.
“Every principle of nuclear safety has been violated,” he said in the attachment. “What is at stake is extremely serious.”
He expressed concern about the way the facility is being operated and the danger posed by fighting in the area. Experts at the US-based Institute for the Study of War said Russia was deliberately shelling the area “which puts Ukraine in a difficult position”.
The Ukrainian company that operates the nuclear power plant said Saturday that Russian troops are using the plant’s basement to hide from Ukrainian shelling and has banned its Ukrainian employees from going there.
“Ukrainian personnel do not have access to these premises yet, so in case of another shelling, people have no shelter and are in danger,” Enerhoatom, a Ukrainian state-owned company, said on its Telegram channel.
Enerhoatom said Friday Russian missiles had damaged the plant’s equipment, including a nitrogen-oxygen unit and a high-voltage power line. Local Russian-appointed officials acknowledged the damage but blamed Ukrainians.
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