Kyiv, Ukraine — Russian forces launched an attack on two key cities in the eastern region of Donetsk on Saturday and continued rocket and shelling attacks on other Ukrainian cities, including one near Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, Ukrainian military and local officials said.
Both towns of Bakhmut and Avdiivka have been considered key targets of Russia’s ongoing offensive in eastern Ukraine, with analysts saying Moscow must capture Bakhmut if it wants to advance towards the regional hubs of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk.
“Towards Donetsk, the enemy is conducting an offensive operation, concentrating its main efforts on the Bakhmut and Avdiivka directions. It uses 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 fortifying 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 attack,” Colonel Yurii Bereza, head of the National Guard’s volunteer regiment, told The The Singapore Time.
Russian shelling has killed five civilians and injured 14 others in the Donetsk region in the past day, Donetsk governor Pavlo Kyrylenko wrote on Telegram on Saturday, saying two people were killed in Poprosny and one in Avdiivka, Soledar and Pervomaiskiy.
The governor of the eastern Dnipropetrovsk region said three civilians were injured after Russian missiles fell on a residential area in Nikopol, a town across the Dnieper River from the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant. The nuclear power plant has been under Russian control since Moscow’s troops captured it early in the war.
“After midnight, the Russian army attacked the Nikopol area with (Soviet era) Grad missiles and the Kryvyi Rih area with barrel artillery,” Valentyn Reznichenko wrote on Telegram.
Another Russian missile strike damaged unspecified infrastructure in the regional capital Zaporizhzhya overnight. 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 Zaporizhzhya plant is getting more dangerous by the day.
“Every principle of nuclear safety has been violated” at the plant, he said. “What is at stake is extremely serious.”
He expressed concern about the way the factory is being operated and about the danger of the fighting around it. Experts from the US-based Institute for the Study of War said Russia is deliberately shelling the area, “putting Ukraine in a difficult position”.
The Ukrainian company that operates the nuclear power plant said on Saturday that Russian troops are using the factory’s basement to hide from Ukrainian shelling and have denied entry to their Ukrainian personnel.
“Ukrainian personnel do not yet have access to these buildings, so in case of new shelling, people have no shelter and are in danger,” Enerhoatom, a Ukrainian state-owned company, said on its Telegram channel.
Enerhoatom said on Friday that Russian missiles had damaged the plant’s facilities, including a nitrogen-oxygen unit and a power line. Local officials appointed by Russia acknowledged the damage but blamed the Ukrainians.
In other developments:
—— In southern Ukraine, two civilians were seriously injured on Saturday, according to regional authorities, after Russian troops fired rockets into the port of Mykolaiv on the Black Sea before dawn. This followed a Friday afternoon attack on Mykolaiv in which one person was killed and 21 others injured.
In the Kherson region south of Mykolaiv, the deputy mayor of the Russian-occupied city of Nova Kakhovka was in critical condition after an assassination attempt, Russia’s state news agency RIA-Novosti said, citing the deputy head of the Kherson region, most of which under Russian control.
The first of three more ships carrying thousands of tons of corn from Ukraine anchored north of Istanbul on Saturday pending inspection, the Turkish defense ministry said. The Panama-flagged Navi Star, which transports 33,000 tons of grain to Ireland, left Odessa on Friday. It is followed by Turkish-flagged Polarnet and Maltese-flagged Rojen, with over 25,000 tons of maize between them from Chornomorsk. The joint inspection center was established to get grain in Ukraine through the war against the world. On Friday, the center inspected its first ship bound for Chornomorsk.
——In the north, Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkov and the surrounding area, came under Russian rocket fire overnight again, according to regional governor Oleh Syniehubov. An 18-year-old in Chuhuiv, a town near Kharkiv, was hospitalized on Saturday after picking up an unexploded grenade. Both Chuhuiv and Kharkiv are close to the Russian border and have endured sustained Russian shelling in recent weeks.
——The neighboring Sumy region, which also borders Russia, has also faced near-constant shelling and rocket attacks. The governor said on Saturday that the region has been hit more than 60 times from Russian territory in the past day and an injured civilian had to be hospitalized.
—— On the munitions front, Russia has begun using Iranian combat drones in the war, Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said on YouTube, adding that Tehran had handed over 46 drones to the Russian military.
Joanna Kozlowska contributed from London.
Follow all TSTIME stories about the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine.