UKRAINE: Artillery shells rained down on the city near Europe’s biggest nuclear power plant overnight and Russian missiles hit targets near Odesa, Ukraine’s Black Sea port and grain export hub, as the war headed toward its six-month milestone on Wednesday.
August 24 will also mark 31 years of Ukraine’s independence from Soviet rule, and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged vigilance in an overnight video address, saying Moscow could try “something particularly nasty”.
Russian authorities said on Sunday they were investigating a suspected bombing outside Moscow that killed the daughter of Alexander Dugin, an ultra-nationalist Russian ideologue who advocates for Russia to absorb Ukraine.
While investigators said they were considering “all versions” of who was responsible, Russia’s foreign ministry speculated there could be a connection to Ukraine, a claim quickly dismissed by Zelenskyi aides.
“Ukraine, of course, had nothing to do with this, because we are not a criminal state like the Russian Federation, and we are not a terrorist state,” Mykhailo Podolyak said on Ukrainian television, suggesting the incident was “karmic.” retaliation for supporters of the invasion of Moscow.
As Ukraine prepares to celebrate Independence Day, embroiled in a war that has levelled cities, killed thousands and forced millions to flee, military and regional officials reported more Russian strikes on targets in the country’s east and south.
Of particular concern was the shelling of Nikopol, a city across the Dnieper River from Zaporizhzhia, the largest nuclear power plant in Ukraine and Europe. It has been held by Russian forces since March.
Nikopol was shelled on five different occasions overnight, regional governor Valentyn Reznichenko wrote on Telegram. He said 25 artillery shells hit the town, causing a fire in an industrial area and restricting the flow of 3,000 residents.
Fighting near Zaporizhzhia and Saturday’s rocket attack on the southern Ukrainian city of Voznesensk, not far from Ukraine’s second-largest nuclear power plant, have raised fears of a nuclear accident.
Local authorities also reported overnight rocket attacks in the Odesa region, home to Black Sea ports important to an UN-brokered plan to help Ukrainian agricultural exports, the key to global food supplies, re-enter world markets.
Five Russian Kalibr cruise missiles were fired from the Black Sea overnight, a spokesman for the regional administration said, citing information from the Southern Military Command. Two were shot down by Ukrainian air defences, while three hit agricultural targets, but there were no casualties.
Russia said on Sunday that missiles destroyed an ammunition depot containing rockets for US-made HIMARS missiles, while Kyiv said a granary was hit.
In his speech, Zelensky indirectly referred to the explosions, which Ukraine did not claim, but analysts say at least some were enabled by new equipment used by its forces.
“This year you can feel Crimea in the air, that the occupation there is only temporary and Ukraine is coming back,” Zelensky said.
In the latest incident, a drone attack on the Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters was thwarted on Saturday morning, according to a Telegram post by Mikhail Razvozhayev, the Russian-appointed governor of Crimea, which is not recognized by the West.
In the south, Russian forces launched a successful attack on the village of Blahodatne on the border between the Kherson and Mykolaiv regions, the agency said. The city of Mykolaiv was hit by several S-300 missiles early Sunday morning, regional governor Vitaly Kim said on Telegram.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said its forces destroyed two M777 howitzers in combat positions in the Kherson region and a fuel depot in the Zaporizhia region.