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.
Russian shelling killed five civilians and injured 14 others in the Donetsk region in the past day, Donetsk Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko wrote on Telegram on Saturday.
Civilians injured in Nikopol
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 Grad missiles and the Kryvyi Rih area with barrel artillery,” Valentyn Reznichenko wrote on Telegram.
Ukrainian authorities also said a Russian missile strike overnight damaged unspecified infrastructure in the regional capital Zaporizhzhya. 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.
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 they believe 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 alleged Ukrainian shelling.
Strikes on Mykolaiv, Kharkov
In southern Ukraine, two civilians were seriously injured on Saturday after Russian troops fired rockets into the Black Sea port city of Mykolaiv, according to regional authorities. This followed a Friday afternoon attack on Mykolaiv in which one person was killed and 21 others injured.
To the north, Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv and the surrounding area, came again overnight under Russian rocket fire, 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 have faced continued Russian shelling in recent weeks due to their proximity to the Russian border.
The neighboring Sumy region, which also borders Russia, has also faced near-constant shelling and rocket attacks. The regional governor said on Saturday the province had 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 in a YouTube address, adding that Tehran had handed over 46 drones to the Russian military.