Ukraine conflict: Russia increasing efforts in Donbas amid speculation of 'major counter-offensive'
Russian forces have fired missiles and artillery on Ukrainian-held areas across the river from Europe’s largest nuclear power station, authorities said.
It comes as concern persists about safety at the Russian-controlled station after it was temporarily knocked offline.
Grad missiles and artillery shells hit the cities of Nikopol and Marhanets, each about six miles and across the Dnieper River from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station, said Valentyn Reznichenko, governor of Ukraine’s Dnipropetrovsk region.
Russian forces occupied the nuclear complex early in the war in Ukraine, while Ukrainian workers have kept it running.
Each side has repeatedly accused the other of shelling the complex, raising fears the fighting could trigger a catastrophe.
The Ministry of Defence in an intelligence update stated that the move may be to try and neutralise a rumoured counter attack from Ukrainian forces.
An update from the MoD read: “Over the last five days, there has probably been an increase in the intensity of Russian assaults along the Donetsk sector of the Donbas. North of Donetsk city, there has been intense fighting near the towns of Siversk and Bakhmut.
"Pro-Russian separatist militia have probably made some progress towards the centre of the village of Pisky, near Donetsk Airport. However, overall, Russian forces have secured few territorial gains.
"There is a realistic possibility that Russia has increased its efforts in the Donbas in an attempt to draw in or fix additional Ukrainian units, amid speculation that Ukraine is planning a major counter-offensive.”
On Friday, authorities began distributing iodine tablets to residents who live near the station in case of a radiation leak.
The move came a day after the station was temporarily knocked offline because of what officials said was fire damage to a transmission line.
Recent satellite images from Planet Labs show fires burning around the complex over the last several days.
The UN’s atomic energy agency has been trying to send a team in to inspect and help secure the station.
Officials said preparations for the visit are underway, but it remains unclear when it might take place.
Ukraine has claimed Russia is using the power station as a shield by storing weapons there and launching attacks from around it.
Moscow, in contrast, accuses Ukraine of recklessly firing on the complex.
Elsewhere in Ukraine, one person was killed and another hurt in Russian attacks in the Mykolaiv region, local government officials said.
Mykolaiv city is an important Black Sea port and shipbuilding centre.
The governor of the eastern Donetsk region, Pavlo Kyrylenko, said on Saturday that two people were killed when Russian fired on the city of Bakhmut, a significant target for Russian and separatist forces seeking to take control of the parts of the region they do not already hold.
The war in Ukraine has surpassed six months of fighting with significant casualties on either side as Putin’s forces continue the illegal invasion.