Russian forces began an assault on two key cities in the eastern Donetsk region on Saturday and continued rocket attacks and shelling of other Ukrainian cities, including one near Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, the military said and the local officials of Ukraine.
The two towns of Bakhmut and Avdiivka have been seen as key targets in Russia’s ongoing offensive in eastern Ukraine, and analysts say Moscow must take Bakhmut if it wants to advance on the regional centers of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk.
“In the direction of Donetsk, the enemy is conducting an offensive operation, concentrating its main efforts in the Bakhmut and Avdiivka directions. It uses ground attack and army aviation,” the General Staff said of Ukraine on Facebook.
The last Russian attack on Sloviansk was on July 30, but Ukrainian forces are fortifying their positions in the city in anticipation of further fighting.
“I think it won’t 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 over 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.
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The governor of the eastern Dnipropetrovsk region said three civilians were injured after Russian rockets fell on a residential neighborhood in Nikopol, a city across the Dnieper River.. The nuclear plant has been under Russian control since Moscow troops seized it early in the war.
“After midnight, the Russian army hit the Nikopol area with (Soviet-era) Grad rockets and the Kryvyi Rih area with cannon artillery,” Valentyn Reznichenko wrote on Telegram.
Enerhoatom, a Ukrainian state-owned company, said on Friday that Russian rockets had damaged facilities at the plant, including a nitrogen-oxygen unit and a high-voltage power line. Local officials appointed by Russia acknowledged the damage but blamed it on the Ukrainians.
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 plant, he said. “What is at stake is extremely serious.”
He expressed concern about the way the plant is being operated and the danger posed by the fighting around it. Experts from the US Institute for the Study of War said that Russia is bombing the area intentionally, “putting Ukraine in a difficult position”.
The Ukrainian company that operates the nuclear power plant said on Saturday that Russian troops are using the plant’s basement to hide from Ukrainian shelling and have banned their Ukrainian staff from going there.
“Ukrainian personnel still do not have access to these premises, so in case of new shelling, people have no shelter and are in danger,” Enerhoatom said on its Telegram channel.