Russian forces have launched an assault on two key cities in the east of the Donetsk region and are continuing rocket and artillery attacks on other Ukrainian cities, including a city located near Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, Ukrainian officials said.
The other towns of Bakhmut and Avdiivka have been seen as key targets in Russia’s ongoing offensive in eastern Ukraine, and analysts say Moscow needs to take Bakhmut if it wants to advance on the regional hubs of Slavyansk and Kramatorsk.
“In the Donetsk direction, the enemy is conducting an offensive operation, concentrating the main efforts on the Bakhmut and Avdeevka directions. Attack and army aviation is used, ”the General Staff of Ukraine said in a Facebook post.
As a result of Russian shelling in the Donetsk region over the past 24 hours, five civilians were killed and 14 more were injured, Governor of the Donetsk region Pavel Kirilenko wrote on Telegram on Saturday.
The governor of the Eastern Dnepropetrovsk region said three civilians were injured after Russian rockets hit a residential area in Nikopol, a city across the Dnieper from the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant. The nuclear plant has been under Russian control since Moscow’s troops took it over at the start of the war.
“After midnight, the Russian army shelled the Nikopol area with Grad rockets (Soviet-made), and the Krivoy Rog area with cannon artillery,” Valentin Reznichenko wrote on Telegram.
Ukrainian authorities also said Russian rocket fire during the night damaged unidentified infrastructure in the regional center of Zaporozhye. On Thursday, Russia fired 60 rockets at Nikopol, damaging 50 residential buildings in the city of 107,000 and leaving residents without power.
Rafael Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, warned this week that the situation at the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant is getting more dangerous every day.
“All the principles of nuclear safety were violated at the station,” he said. “A very serious, extremely serious and dangerous matter is at stake.”
He expressed concern about how the plant is being operated and the danger posed by the fighting around it. Experts from the American Institute for the Study of War said they believe Russia is deliberately bombarding the area, “putting Ukraine in a difficult position.”
The Ukrainian company operating the nuclear power plant said on Saturday that Russian forces were using the plant’s basement to hide from Ukrainian shelling and were preventing their Ukrainian employees from entering.
“Ukrainian personnel do not yet have access to these premises, therefore, in the event of new shelling, people do not have shelter and are in danger,” the Ukrainian state-owned enterprise Energoatom reported on its Telegram channel.
Energoatom said on Friday that Russian missiles had damaged plant facilities, including a nitrogen-oxygen plant and a high-voltage power line. Russian-appointed local officials acknowledged the damage but blamed it on the alleged Ukrainian shelling.
In southern Ukraine, two civilians were seriously injured on Saturday after Russian troops fired rockets into the Black Sea port of Mykolaiv before dawn, according to regional authorities. This followed an attack on Mykolaiv on Friday afternoon that left one person dead and 21 wounded.
According to Oleg Sinegubov, the region’s governor, in the north, Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, and its environs also came under Russian rocket fire again at night. An 18-year-old from Chuguiv, near Kharkiv, was taken to hospital on Saturday after he picked up an unexploded ordnance.
Both Chuguev and Kharkiv have come under constant shelling from Russia in recent weeks due to their proximity to the Russian border.
In the neighboring Sumy region, which also borders Russia, shelling and rocket attacks almost never stop. The region’s governor said on Saturday that the province had received more than 60 strikes from Russian territory the previous day, and one wounded civilian had to be hospitalized.
In terms of munitions, Russia has begun using Iranian combat drones in the war, Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovich said in a YouTube address, adding that Tehran has donated 46 drones to the Russian army.