KYIV, Ukraine (AP) – The Russian army slammed into residential areas across Ukraine overnight, claiming gains, as Ukrainian forces mounted a counter-offensive to try to take back an occupied southern region, destroying the last working bridge over a river. the Russian-occupied Kherson region, Ukrainian authorities said on Saturday.
Three people were killed and 13 others injured in a Russian rocket attack on the city of Kramatorsk on Friday evening, the mayor said. Kramatorsk is the headquarters of the Ukrainian Armed Forces in the war-torn east of the country.
The attack came less than a day after 11 other missiles were fired at the city, one of the two main Ukrainian-occupied missiles in Donetsk province. of an ongoing Russian offensive to conquer the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.
Russia’s defense ministry claimed on Saturday that its forces had taken control of Pisky, a village on the outskirts of the city of Donetsk, the provincial capital that has been controlled by pro-Moscow separatists since 2014.
Russian troops and Kremlin-backed rebels are seeking to take Ukrainian-occupied areas north and west of the city of Donetsk to expand the separatist self-proclaimed republic. But the Ukrainian army said on Saturday that its forces had prevented a nightly advance towards the smaller towns of Avdiivka and Bakhmut.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov also claimed that Russian attacks near Kramatorsk, 120 kilometers (75 miles) north of the city of Donetsk, destroyed a US-supplied multiple rocket launcher and ammunition. Ukrainian authorities did not acknowledge military losses, but said Russian rocket attacks on Kramatorsk had destroyed 20 residential buildings on Friday.
Neither claim could be independently verified.
The Ukrainian governor of neighboring Luhansk province, part of the Donbas region overrun by Russian forces last month, claimed Ukrainian forces still controlled a small area in the province. In Telegram, Luhansk Governor Serhii Haidai wrote that the defending troops were entrenched in an oil refinery on the outskirts of Lysychansk, a city Moscow claimed to have taken, and also control areas near a village.
“The enemy is setting fire to the ground at the entrances to the Luhansk region because it cannot overcome these few kilometers (Ukrainian resistance),” Haidai said. “It is difficult to count how many thousands of shells this area of the free Luhansk region has endured over the past month and a half.”
Further west, the governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region reported more Russian shelling of the city of Nikopol, which sits across the Dnieper River from Europe’s largest nuclear power plant..
Governor Yevhen Yevtushenko did not specify whether Russian troops had fired at Nikopol from the occupied Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant. He wrote on Telegram on Saturday that there were no casualties, but that residential buildings, a power line and a gas pipeline were damaged.
Nikopol has been subjected to daily bombing raids for most of the past week, and a salvo of shells killed three people and damaged 40 apartment buildings on Thursday, he said.
Russian and Ukrainian officials have accused each other of shelling the Zaporizhzhya plant in violation of nuclear safety rules. Russian forces have occupied the plant since the early days of the Moscow invasion, although the facility’s Ukrainian nuclear workers continue to run it.
Ukrainian military intelligence claimed on Saturday that Russian troops fired on the factory from a village just a few miles away, damaging a gas station and fire station. The intelligence directorate said the Russians had taken people to the power plant and mounted a Ukrainian flag on a gun on the outskirts of Enerhodar, the city where the factory is located.
“Clearly it will be used for yet another provocation to incriminate Ukraine’s armed forces,” the directorate said without elaborating.
Ukrainian officials have repeatedly claimed that Russian troops used the factory as a shield while firing at Ukrainian communities across the river, knowing Ukrainian troops were unlikely to return fire for fear of a nuclear accident.
They said Russian shelling on Friday night killed a woman and injured two other civilians in the city of Zaporizhzhya. Ukraine’s southern Mykolayiv region also said a woman was killed in shelling there.
The Ukrainian army has been trying to lay the groundwork for a counter-offensive for several weeks to reclaim the Russian-occupied Kherson region of southern Ukraine. A local Ukrainian official reported on Saturday that a Ukrainian strike had damaged the last working bridge over the Dnieper River in the region, further paralyzing Russian supply lines.
“The Russians no longer have the option to fully transfer their equipment,” Serhii Khlan, a deputy for the Kherson Regional Council, wrote on Facebook.
The British Ministry of Defense said on Saturday that damage to bridges over the Dnieper means that “supply of the ground for the several thousand Russian troops on the western bank is almost certainly dependent on just two ferry crossings”.
“Even if Russia manages to make significant repairs to the (damaged) bridges, they will remain a major vulnerability,” the British said.
On Saturday, the deputy director of the Russian-controlled hydroelectric power plant in Kakhovka, 60 kilometers upstream from the city of Kherson, said one of the production units was out of service after a Ukrainian missile attack. Arseniy Zelenskyy said further strikes could endanger the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant because the water intakes use the reservoir formed by the dam of the Kakhovka plant.
Days after explosions at a Russian air base in Crimea destroyed a dozen planes, a Ukrainian presidential adviser said Kiev should make retaking the Black Sea peninsula that Moscow annexed in 2014 one of its goals of the war.
“Russia started a war against Ukraine and the world in 2014, with the brutal seizure of Crimea. It is clear that this war must end with the liberation of Crimea,” Mykhailo Podoylak, the head of the office of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, wrote on Twitter on Saturday. “And also with the legal punishment of the initiators of the ‘special military operation’” – the Kremlin’s term for its war in Ukraine.
Ukrainian officials have not claimed responsibility for the explosions at Saki Air Force Base in Crimea on Tuesday. Russian defense officials have denied any damage to planes – or even an attack – and attribute the explosions to munitions detonated on the spot.
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