President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has warned Ukrainians to be vigilant in the coming week as they prepare to celebrate their Independence Day as new explosions hit Crimea and a missile injures 12 civilians near a nuclear power plant.
In his overnight video address, Zelenskiy said on Saturday that Ukrainians should not allow Moscow to “spread despair and fear” among them as they mark the 31st anniversary of independence from the Soviet government.
“We should all be aware that this week Russia could try to do something particularly ugly, something very evil,” Zelenskiy said ahead of the August 24 anniversary, which is also six months since Russia’s large-scale invasion of Ukraine began.
Tensions are also running high in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, where curfews will be extended for the whole day on Wednesday, regional governor Oleh Synehub said on Saturday. The northeastern city is regularly hit by Russian shelling and normally has a curfew from 10pm to 6am, but extra precautions were required on Independence Day.
Also on Saturday, a Russian missile hit a residential area of a city in southern Ukraine not far from a nuclear power plant, injuring 12 civilians, Russian and Ukrainian officials said.
The attack on the Pivdennoukrainsk nuclear power plant and new shelling near Zaporizhzhya station, Europe’s largest such facility, sparked new fears of a nuclear accident during the war, Ukrainian officials said.
Zelenskiy also referred in his speech obliquely to a series of explosions in recent days in Crimea, the Ukrainian territory occupied and annexed by Russia during a 2014 invasion.
Ukraine has not claimed responsibility for the attacks, but analysts have said some of it was made possible by new equipment used by Ukrainian forces.
“You can literally feel Crimea in the air this year, that the occupation there is only temporary and that Ukraine is coming back,” Zelenskiy said.
In the latest attack on Crimea, the Russian-appointed governor – who is not recognized by Ukraine or Western governments – said a drone hit a building near the headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet on Saturday morning.
Video shared on Twitter appeared to show Russian air defenses trying to destroy the UAV and dark plumes of smoke billowing from the city.
Mikhail Razvozhayev, the governor of Sevastopol, wrote on Telegram that a drone hit the roof of the headquarters on Saturday and said there were no casualties, Russia’s Tass news agency reported.
“I’m with the [Black Sea] now the headquarters of the fleet. A drone hit the roof here 25 minutes ago. Unfortunately, it has not been knocked down… There are no casualties,” he wrote.
Later on Saturday, Crimean Governor Sergei Aksyonov contradicted the earlier statement by saying on Telegram that local air defenses shot down the drone over Black Sea Fleet headquarters in Sevastopol.
“Air defense systems successfully hit all targets over the territory above Crimea on Saturday morning. There are no casualties or property damage,” his boss, Sergei Aksyonov, told Telegram.
Authorities in Sevastopol reported Saturday evening that the city’s air defense systems had returned to action in the evening.
Ukrainian media reported explosions in nearby towns, including the resorts of Yevpatoriya, Olenivka and Zaozyornoye.
After the strike near the power plant in southern Ukraine, Vitaliy Kim, governor of the Mykolaiv region, said on Telegram that four children were among the injured.
Private houses and a five-storey apartment block were damaged in Voznesensk, 30 km from the factory, the second largest in Ukraine.
The prosecutor’s office in the Mykolaiv region, updating an earlier toll, said 12 civilians were injured.
State-run Energoatom, which controls all four Ukraine’s nuclear power generators, described the attack on Voznesensk as “a new act of Russian nuclear terrorism”.
“It is possible that this missile was specifically aimed at the Pivdennoukrainsk nuclear power plant, which the Russian army attempted to capture in early March,” Energoatom said in a statement.
Russia did not immediately respond to the accusation. Reuters could not verify the situation in Voznesensk. There were no reports of damage to the factory in southern Ukraine.
Meanwhile, the Albanian Defense Ministry said on Saturday that three people with Russian and Ukrainian passports had been arrested after trying to break into a military base and weapons factory in central Albania.
The ministry said in a statement on Saturday that two of its soldiers were injured while trying to stop them.
“Three citizens with Russian and Ukrainian passports have tried to enter the factory,” the ministry said in a statement to media.
Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama said the three individuals are “suspected of espionage”.