Russian forces begin assault on two cities in eastern Ukraine

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian forces began an assault Saturday on two key cities in the eastern Donetsk region and kept up rocket attacks and shelling on other Ukrainian cities, including one near Ukraine’s largest nuclear power plant. Europe, Ukrainian military and local officials said. .

Both towns, Bakhmut and Avdiivka, had been seen as key targets of Russia’s ongoing offensive in eastern Ukraine, with analysts saying Moscow needs to take Bakhmut if it wants to advance into the regional hubs of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk.

“In the Donetsk direction, the enemy is conducting an offensive operation, concentrating its main efforts in the Bakhmut and Avdiivka directions. It uses ground attack and military 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, saying two were killed in Poprosny and one each in Avdiivka, Soledar and Pervomaiskiy.

The governor of the eastern Dnipropetrovsk region said three civilians were injured after Russian rockets landed on a residential neighborhood in Nikopol, a city across the Dnieper River from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. 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.

Ukrainian authorities also said a Russian missile attack overnight 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 people and leaving residents without power.

Rafael Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, warned this week that the situation is becoming more dangerous by the day at the Zaporizhzhia plant.

“All nuclear safety principles have been violated” at the plant, he said. “What is at stake is extremely serious and extremely serious and dangerous.”

He expressed concern about the way the plant is being operated and the danger posed by the fighting around it. Experts from the US-based Institute for the Study of War said they believe Russia is intentionally 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 basement of the plant to hide from Ukrainian shelling and have banned its Ukrainian personnel from going there.

“Ukrainian personnel still do not have access to these facilities, so in case of further 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 rockets had damaged facilities at the plant, including a nitrogen-oxygen unit and a high-voltage power line. Russian-appointed local officials acknowledged the damage, but attributed it to suspected Ukrainian shelling.

In southern Ukraine, two civilians were seriously injured on Saturday after Russian forces fired rockets at the Black Sea port of Mykolayiv before dawn, according to regional authorities. That followed an attack Friday afternoon in Mykolayiv that killed one person and wounded 21 others.

In the north, Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, and its surroundings also came under Russian rocket fire again overnight, according to regional governor Oleh Syniehubov. An 18-year-old in Chuhuiv, a town near Kharkiv, had to be hospitalized on Saturday after picking up an unexploded shell.

Both Chuhuiv and Kharkiv have suffered from sustained Russian shelling in recent weeks, due to their proximity to the Russian border.

The neighboring Sumy region, which also borders Russia, has also seen near-constant bombing and missile attacks. Its regional governor said on Saturday that the province had been attacked more than 60 times from Russian territory in the previous day and that an injured civilian had to be hospitalized.

On the ammunition front, Russia has started using Iranian combat drones in the war, Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said in a YouTube address, adding that Tehran had transferred 46 drones to the Russian military.

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Follow all AP stories about the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine.

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