By SUSIE BLANN
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian forces launched an assault on two key towns in the eastern region of Donetsk on Saturday and continued rocket and shelling attacks on other Ukrainian towns, including one near the largest nuclear power plant in Europe, Ukrainian military and local officials said. .
The two towns of Bakhmut and Avdiivka have been seen as key targets in the ongoing Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine, with analysts saying Moscow must take Bakhmut if it is to advance on regional centers in Sloviansk and Kramatorsk.
“In the Donetsk direction, the enemy is carrying out an offensive operation, concentrating its main efforts on the Bakhmut and Avdiivka directions. It uses ground attack and army aviation,” the general staff said. Ukrainian on Facebook.
The last Russian strike on Sloviansk dates back to July 30, but Ukrainian forces are strengthening their positions around the city awaiting further fighting.
“I think it won’t be calm for long. Eventually there will be aggression,” Col. Yurii Bereza, head of the National Volunteer Guard regiment, told The Associated Press.
Russian shelling has killed five civilians and injured 14 others in the Donetsk region over the past day, Donetsk Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko wrote on Telegram on Saturday, saying two people were killed in Poprosny, and one in Avdiivka, Soledar and Pervomaiskiy.
The governor of the eastern Dnipropetrovsk region said three civilians were injured after Russian rockets fell on a residential area in Nikopol, a town across the Dnieper from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. The nuclear plant has been under Russian control since troops from Moscow seized it at the start of 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.
Another Russian missile attack overnight damaged unspecified infrastructure in the regional capital of Zaporizhzhia. Russia fired 60 rockets at Nikopol on Thursday, damaging 50 residential buildings in the city of 107,000 and leaving residents without power.
Rafael Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, warned this week that the situation was becoming more perilous by the day at the Zaporizhzhia power plant.
“All the principles of nuclear safety have been violated” at the plant, he said. “What is at stake is extremely serious.”
He expressed concern about the way the plant is operated and the danger posed by the fighting taking place around it. Experts from the US Institute for the Study of War said Russia was intentionally bombing the region, “putting Ukraine in a difficult position”.
The Ukrainian company operating the nuclear power plant said on Saturday that Russian troops were using the plant’s basement to hide from Ukrainian shelling and had banned its Ukrainian personnel from going there.
“Ukrainian personnel do not yet have access to these premises, so in case of new bombardments, people have no shelter and are in danger,” Enerhoatom, a Ukrainian state enterprise, said on its channel. Telegram.
Enerhoatom said Friday that Russian rockets damaged plant facilities, including a nitrogen-oxygen unit and a high-voltage power line. Russian-appointed local officials acknowledged the damage, but blamed it on the Ukrainians.
In other developments:
__ In southern Ukraine, two civilians were seriously injured on Saturday after Russian forces fired rockets at the Black Sea port of Mykolaiv before dawn, according to regional authorities. This followed an attack Friday afternoon on Mykolaiv that killed one person and injured 21 others.
__In the Kherson region, south of Mykolaiv, the deputy mayor of the Russian-occupied town of Nova Kakhovka was in critical condition after an assassination attempt, the state news agency said. Russian RIA-Novosti, citing the deputy head of the Kherson region, most of which is under Russian control.
The first of three other ships carrying thousands of tonnes of corn from Ukraine anchored north of Istanbul on Saturday awaiting inspection, the Turkish Defense Ministry said. The Panamanian-flagged Navi Star, which carries 33,000 tonnes of grain to Ireland, left Odessa on Friday. It is followed by the Polarnet under the Turkish flag and the Rojen under the Maltese flag, transporting between them more than 25,000 tonnes of maize from Chornomorsk. The joint inspection center was created to block grain in Ukraine by the war against the world. On Friday, the center inspected its first northbound vessel as it headed for Chornomorsk.
In the north, Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, and its surroundings were also targeted again by Russian rocket fire overnight, according to regional governor Oleh Syniehubov. An 18-year-old from Chuhuiv, a town near Kharkiv, had to be hospitalized on Saturday after recovering an unexploded shell. Chuhuiv and Kharkiv are close to the Russian border and have come under heavy Russian bombardment in recent weeks.
The neighboring region of Sumy, which also borders Russia, has also seen near-constant bombing and missile strikes. Its governor said on Saturday that the region had been hit more than 60 times from Russian territory during the previous day and that one 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 post, adding that Tehran had transferred 46 drones to the Russian military.
Joanna Kozlowska contributed from London.
Follow all AP stories about the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine.