KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — The Russian military pounded residential areas across Ukraine overnight, claiming gains, as Ukrainian forces launched a counteroffensive in an attempt to retake an occupied southern region, striking the last working bridge over a river in the Russian-occupied region of Kherson, Ukrainian authorities announced on Saturday.
A Russian rocket attack on the city of Kramatorsk killed three people and injured 13 on Friday evening, according to the mayor. Kramatorsk is the headquarters of Ukrainian forces in the war-torn east of the country.
The attack came less than a day after 11 more rockets were fired at the town, one of two major Ukrainian-held towns in Donetsk province, at the center of an ongoing Russian offensive to capture the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine.
The Russian Defense Ministry said on Saturday that its forces had taken control of Pisky, a village on the outskirts of the city of Donetsk, the provincial capital claimed by pro-Moscow separatists since 2014.
Russian troops and Kremlin-backed rebels are seeking to take over Ukrainian-held areas north and west of the city of Donetsk to expand the separatists’ self-declared republic. But the Ukrainian army said on Saturday that its forces had prevented a night advance towards the small towns of Avdiivka and Bakhmut.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov also claimed that Russian strikes near Kramatorsk, 120 kilometers (75 miles) north of the city of Donetsk, destroyed a multiple rocket launcher and ammunition provided by the United States. Ukrainian authorities acknowledged no military casualties but said Friday’s Russian missile strikes on Kramatorsk destroyed 20 residential buildings.
Neither claim could be independently verified.
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The Ukrainian governor of neighboring Luhansk province, which is part of the fight for the Donbass region and was overrun by Russian forces last month, said Ukrainian troops still hold a small area. Writing on Telegram, Luhansk Governor Serhii Haidai said defending troops remained locked in an oil refinery on the outskirts of Lysychansk, a town Moscow claimed to have captured, and also controlled areas near a village .
“The enemy is burning the ground at the entrances to the Luhansk region because he cannot defeat [Ukrainian resistance along] those few kilometres,” Haidai said. “It is difficult to count how many thousands of shells this territory of the free Lugansk region has withstood over the past month and a half.”
Further west, the governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region reported further Russian shelling of the town of Nikopol, which lies across the Dnieper from Europe’s largest nuclear power plant.
Governor Yevhen Yevtushenko did not say whether Russian troops fired on Nikopol from the occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. Writing on Telegram, he said on Saturday there were no casualties but residential buildings, a power line and a gas pipeline were damaged.
Nikopol has come under daily shelling for most of the past week, and a volley of shells killed three people and damaged 40 apartment buildings on Thursday, he said.
For days, Russian and Ukrainian officials have accused each other of bombing the Zaporizhzhia power plant in violation of nuclear safety rules. Russian troops have occupied the plant since the early days of the Moscow invasion, although pre-war Ukrainian nuclear workers continue to run it.
Ukrainian military intelligence said on Saturday that Russian troops were shelling the plant from a village a few kilometers away, damaging a pumping station and a fire station. The intelligence leadership said the Russians transported people to the power plant and mounted a Ukrainian flag on a self-propelled gun on the outskirts of Enerhodar, the town where the plant is located.
“Obviously it will be used for yet another provocation to blame the Ukrainian armed forces,” the leadership said, without giving further details.
Ukrainian officials have repeatedly claimed that Russian forces cynically used the plant as a shield while firing on communities across the river, knowing that Ukrainian forces were unlikely to retaliate for fear of triggering an accident. nuclear.
They said Russian shelling on Friday night killed a woman and injured two other civilians in the town of Zaporizhzhia, located a direct distance of about 53 kilometers (33 miles) from the factory. The Mykolaiv region in southern Ukraine also said a woman died there in the shelling.
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For several weeks, the Ukrainian army tried to lay the groundwork for a counter-offensive to reclaim the Russian-occupied Kherson region in southern Ukraine. A local Ukrainian official reported on Saturday that a Ukrainian strike had damaged the last working bridge over the Dnieper in the region and further crippled Russian supply lines.
“The Russians no longer have the capacity to fully return their equipment,” Serhii Khlan, deputy to the Kherson Regional Council, wrote on Facebook. His claims could not immediately be verified.
Ukrainian officials have repeatedly mentioned a planned counteroffensive to retake the Russian-occupied southern parts of the country. They urged residents not to post information on social media about related military actions and warned that any related announcements could be delayed.
Days after explosions at a Russian airbase in Crimea destroyed up to a dozen planes, a Ukrainian presidential adviser says Kyiv should make the recapture of the Black Sea peninsula that Moscow seized one of its war aims more than eight years ago.
“Russia started a war against Ukraine and the world in 2014, with its brazen takeover of Crimea. It is obvious that this war should end with the liberation of Crimea,” Mykhailo Podoylak, the chief of staff 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 authorities have not claimed responsibility for the explosions that occurred Tuesday at the Saki airbase. Russian defense officials have denied that any aircraft were damaged – or that an attack took place – and attributed the explosions to the spark of ammunition on site.
Explosions devastate Russian airbase in Crimeahttps://t.co/fXzHnjhKGT
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