Artillery shells hit Ukraine’s southern city of Nikopol early Sunday, not far from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned that Russia may try to do “something particularly cruel” when Moscow’s invasion hits the six-month mark this week.
Russia targeted sites near Odesa, Ukraine’s key Black Sea port and grain export hub. But the bombardment of Nikopol was of particular concern, with Ukrainian regional governor Valentyn Reznichenko writing on the Telegram messaging app that 25 artillery shells hit the city, setting fire to an industrial facility and cutting power to 3,000 people.
The fighting near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and Saturday's missile strike on the southern Ukrainian town of Voznesensk, not far from Ukraine's second-largest atomic facility, has spurred fears among world leaders of a nuclear accident.
Russia’s invasion of its one-time Soviet satellite hits the six-month mark on Wednesday and marks the 31st anniversary of Ukraine’s independence.
Zelenskyy said in his nightly address Saturday, “We should be aware that this week Russia may try to do something particularly nasty, something particularly cruel. Such is our enemy. But in any other week during these six months, Russia did the same thing all the time – disgusting and cruel.”
The war between the neighboring countries, raging since Russia’s February 24 invasion, has killed thousands of fighters on both sides and Ukrainian civilians, while forcing millions of Ukrainians to flee their homes for safety in the western part of the country, far from the front battle lines in eastern Ukraine, or go to neighboring countries.
Zelenskyy said, “I remember what various ‘advisers’ told me and advised me then. ... I know that many of them are now ashamed of the words that were said then. ... Ukrainians have proven that our people are invincible, our defenders are invincible.
“We still need to fight, we still need to do a lot, we still need to persevere and endure, unfortunately, a lot of pain,” he said. “But Ukrainians can feel proud of themselves, their country, and their heroes.”
Russian air defenses shot down a drone in Crimea Saturday, Russian authorities said. It was the second such incident at the headquarters of its Black Sea fleet in three weeks.
Oleg Kryuchkov, an aide to Crimea’s governor, also said without elaborating that “attacks by small drones” triggered air defenses in western Crimea.
Russia considers Crimea to be Russian territory, but Ukrainian officials have never accepted its 2014 seizure.
Mikhail Razvozhaev, the governor of Sevastopol, said the drone that was shot down landed on the roof of the Russian fleet’s headquarters but did not cause casualties or major damage.
Razvozhaev posted a new statement on Telegram Saturday night asking residents to stop filming and disseminating pictures of the region's anti-aircraft system and how it was working, the Reuters news agency reported.
The incident underlines the vulnerability of Russian forces in Crimea. Earlier this month, explosions at a Russian air base destroyed nine Russian warplanes Last week, a blast hit a Russian ammunition depot in Crimea. A drone attack on the Black Sea headquarters July 31 injured five people and forced the cancelation of observances of Russia's Navy Day.
Ukrainian authorities have not claimed responsibility for any of the attacks, but Zelenskyy referred obliquely to them Saturday, saying there was anticipation there for next week's anniversary of Ukrainian independence from Soviet rule.
"You can literally feel Crimea in the air this year, that the occupation there is only temporary, and that Ukraine is coming back," he said.
Heightened nuclear fears
For weeks, shelling around the Zaporizhzhia plant has raised fears of a nuclear disaster.
On Saturday, Voznesensk, which is about 30 kilometers from the Pivdennoukrainsk nuclear power plant, Ukraine’s second-largest, was hit by a Russian missile, Reuters reported, quoting Vitaliy Kim, the Mykolaiv regional governor.
Kim said on Telegram that the missile injured at least nine people and damaged houses and an apartment block in Voznesensk.
State-run Energoatom, which manages all four Ukrainian nuclear energy generators, called the attack on Voznesensk "another act of Russian nuclear terrorism."
"It is possible that this missile was aimed specifically at the Pivdennoukrainsk nuclear power plant, which the Russian military tried to seize back at the beginning of March," Energoatom said in a statement.
Ukraine has asked the United Nations and other international organizations to force Russia to leave the Zaporizhzhia plant, which it has occupied since March, even as Ukrainian technicians operate the facility.
Enerhodar, a town near the plant, has recently seen repeated shelling, with Moscow and Kyiv trading blame.
Talks have been under way for more than a week to arrange for a visit to the plant by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
In a phone call Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin told French President Emmanuel Macron that Russia would allow international inspectors to enter the plant.
IAEA chief Rafael Grossi “welcomed recent statements indicating that both Ukraine and Russia supported the IAEA's aim to send a mission" to the plant.
There is growing concern in Europe that shelling around Zaporizhzhia could result in a catastrophe worse than the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.