Kyiv, Ukraine (AP) – Russian forces launched an assault on two key cities in the eastern Donetsk region on Saturday and continued missile and shelling attacks on other Ukrainian cities, including one near Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, Ukrainian military and local officials said.
Both Bakhmut and Avdiyevka have been identified as key targets for the ongoing Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine, and analysts say Moscow must capture Bakhmut if it is to move to the regional Slavic and Kramatorska hubs.
“In the direction of Donetsk, the enemy is conducting an offensive operation, focusing its main efforts on the directions of Bakhmut and Avdiyevka. It uses assault and military aviation, ”the Ukrainian General Staff said on Facebook.
The last Russian attack on Slavyansk took place on July 30, but Ukrainian forces are strengthening their positions around the city in anticipation of new fights.
“I think it won’t be quiet for a long time. Eventually there will be a robbery, ”Colonel Yurii Bereza, head of the National Guard Volunteer Regiment told the Associated Press.
The Russian shelling killed five civilians and wounded 14 other people in the Donetsk region, Donetsk governor Pavlo Kyrylenko wrote in Telegram on Saturday, saying that two people were killed in Poprosny and one each in Avdiyevka, Soledara and Pervomajskij.
The governor of the eastern Dnipropetrovsk region said three civilians were injured after Russian rockets hit a housing estate in Nikopol, a city across the Dnieper River from the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant. The nuclear power plant has been under Russian control since Moscow’s troops occupied it at the beginning of the war.
“After midnight, the Russian army struck the region of Nikopol with Grad rockets (from the Soviet era), and in the region of Kryvyi Rih with gun artillery,” wrote Valentyn Reznichenko in the Telegram.
Another Russian missile attack overnight damaged an undefined infrastructure in the capital of the Zaporozhye region. On Thursday, Russia launched 60 rockets at Nikopol, damaging 50 residential buildings in a 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 Zaporozhye plant was becoming increasingly dangerous.
“Every rule of nuclear safety has been violated,” he said. “The stakes are extremely serious.”
He expressed his concern about the way the power plant works and the dangers posed by the fighting around it. Experts from the US Institute for War Research said Russia is deliberately shelling the area, “putting Ukraine in a difficult position.”
The Ukrainian company operating the nuclear power plant announced on Saturday that Russian troops were hiding in the basement of the nuclear power plant from shelling from Ukraine and forbade Ukrainian personnel to go there.
“Ukrainian personnel do not have access to these rooms yet, so in the event of a new fire, people are out of shelter and in danger,” said Ukrainian state-owned company Enerhoatom on its Telegram channel.
Enerhoatom said on Friday that Russian rockets damaged power plant facilities including the nitrogen-oxygen block and high-voltage power line. Local officials appointed by the Russians pleaded guilty to the damage, but blamed the Ukrainians for it.
In other studies:
__ In southern Ukraine, two civilians were seriously injured Saturday after Russian forces fired rockets at the Black Sea port of Mykolaiv before dawn, regional authorities say. This followed the Friday afternoon attack on Mykolaiv that killed one person and injured 21 others.
__ In the Kherson region south of Mykolaiv, the deputy mayor of the Russian-occupied city of Nowa Kakhovka was in a critical condition after the attack, reported the Russian state news agency RIA-Novosti, citing the deputy head of the Kherson region, most of which are under Russian control.
__ The first of three more ships carrying thousands of tons of corn from Ukraine anchored north of Istanbul on Saturday, awaiting inspection, the Turkish Defense Ministry said. The Panama flag Navi Star, which carries 33,000 tonnes of grain to Ireland, left Odesa on Friday. It is followed by Polarnet under the Turkish flag and Rojen under the Maltese flag, carrying more than 25,000 tonnes of maize from the Black Sea. A joint inspection center was established to block grain in Ukraine by world war. On Friday, the center inspected the first ship sailing north to Black Sea.
In the north, Kharkiv and its environs, the second largest city in Ukraine, also came under attack by Russian missiles overnight, according to regional governor Oleh Syniehubov. The 18-year-old in Chuhujov, a town near Kharkiv, had to be hospitalized on Saturday after picking up an unexploded bomb. Both Chuhuiv and Kharkiv are close to the Russian border and have survived incessant Russian shelling in recent weeks.
__ The neighboring Sumy region, which also borders Russia, has also witnessed almost incessant shelling and missile attacks. Its governor said Saturday the region had been hit more than 60 times from Russian territory in the previous day, and one injured civilian had to be hospitalized.
__ On the ammunition front, Russia began using Iranian combat drones during the war, Ukrainian president’s advisor Oleksiy Arestovych said on YouTube, adding that Tehran donated 46 drones to the Russian army.
Joanna Kozłowska made her contribution from London.
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