Fighting raged in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region as Russian and Ukrainian forces exchanged artillery fire Saturday. Earlier, Russian cruise missiles exploded across several Ukrainian cities and towns including damaging residential buildings.
Workers cleaned the area within the central city of Dnipro, where officials reported three people were killed and 15 others were wounded in the missile strike, said Governor Valentyn Reznychenko on Telegram. Ukraine’s air force said it intercepted four additional missiles fired at the city.
In the northeast region around Ukraine's second city of Kharkiv, Governor Oleg Synegubov said an overnight Russian missile attack killed three people in the town of Chuguiv.
In the central Ukrainian city of Vinnytsia, officials said the death toll rose to 24 from Russian strikes after a woman died of her injuries in a hospital Saturday. Ukraine said three children were among the dead.
The latest fighting comes as Russia’s defense minister directed his troops operating in Ukraine to “further intensify” their military operations. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said the move was to prevent strikes on eastern Ukraine and other territories controlled by Russia in a statement posted on the ministry website.
The statement said Shoigu “gave the necessary instructions to further increase the actions of groups in all operational areas in order to exclude the possibility of the Kyiv regime launching massive rocket and artillery strikes on civilian infrastructure and residents of settlements in Donbas and other regions.”
In other developments, Ukraine's atomic energy agency accused Russia of using Europe’s largest nuclear power plant to store weapons and shell the surrounding regions of Nikopol and Dnipro that were hit Saturday.
Petro Kotin, president of Ukrainian nuclear agency Energoatom, called the situation at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant “extremely tense” with up to 500 Russian soldiers controlling the plant.
The plant in southeast Ukraine has been under Russian control since the early weeks of Moscow's invasion, though it is still operated by Ukrainian staff.
The reports came after U.S. officials unveiled photographic intelligence claiming Iran may be preparing to provide Russia with several hundred weapons-capable unmanned drones. The unmanned aerial drones could be used in the war in Ukraine.
U.S. and Ukrainian officials say U.S. rocket systems provided to Ukraine are having a large impact on the fight against Russia, helping Ukrainian forces hold off Russia’s military in the Donbas region.
It comes as thousands of people have fled the area since the start of the war in late February, with civilian areas coming under attack. Russia has denied targeting civilians in Ukraine.
U.S. President Joe Biden called Russia's war in Ukraine, an example of “efforts to undermine the rules-based order.” Biden’s comments came during bilateral meetings with leaders in Saudi Arabia on Saturday.
Despite the fighting, both sides have indicated signs of progress toward an agreement to end a blockade of Ukrainian grain.
Turkey, which has been mediating the efforts, says a deal could be signed next week.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Lt. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said a final document had been prepared and was set to be completed “in the nearest time” according to The Associated Press.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Wednesday there is “broad agreement” on a deal between Russia and Ukraine, with Turkey and the United Nations, to export millions of tons of Ukrainian grain stuck in silos since Russia’s invasion February 24.
More than 20 million tons of Ukrainian grain are being stored in silos at the Black Sea port of Odesa, and dozens of ships have been stranded because of Russia's blockade. Turkey said it has 20 merchant ships waiting in the region that could be quickly loaded and dispatched to world markets.
VOA National Security Correspondent Jeff Seldin contributed to this story. Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.