Intense Russian bombardment in the east; Ukraine strikes a key bridge

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — The Russian military pounded residential areas across Ukraine overnight, claiming gains, as Ukrainian forces launched a counteroffensive in an attempt to retake an occupied southern region, striking the last working bridge over a river in the Russian-occupied region of Kherson, Ukrainian authorities announced on Saturday.

A Russian rocket attack on the city of Kramatorsk killed three people and injured 13 on Friday evening, according to the mayor. Kramatorsk is the headquarters of Ukrainian forces in the war-torn east of the country.

The attack came less than a day after 11 more rockets were fired at the town, one of two major Ukrainian-held towns in Donetsk province, development of an ongoing Russian offensive to seize the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine.

The Russian Defense Ministry said on Saturday that its forces had taken control of Pisky, a village on the outskirts of the city of Donetsk, the provincial capital controlled by pro-Moscow separatists since 2014.

Russian troops and Kremlin-backed rebels are trying to seize Ukrainian-held areas north and west of the city of Donetsk to expand the separatists’ self-declared republic. But the Ukrainian army said on Saturday that its forces had prevented a night advance towards the small towns of Avdiivka and Bakhmut.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov also claimed that Russian strikes near Kramatorsk, 120 kilometers (75 miles) north of the city of Donetsk, destroyed a multiple rocket launcher and ammunition provided by the United States. Ukrainian authorities acknowledged no military casualties, but said Russian missile fire on Kramatorsk on Friday destroyed 20 residential buildings.

Neither claim could be independently verified.

The Ukrainian governor of neighboring Luhansk province, which is part of the Donbas region that was overrun by Russian forces last month, said Ukrainian troops still hold a small area in the province. Writing on Telegram, Luhansk Governor Serhii Haidai said the defending troops were holed up in an oil refinery on the outskirts of Lysychansk, a town Moscow claimed to have captured, and also controlled areas near a village .

“The enemy is burning the ground at the entrances to the Luhansk region because it cannot defeat (Ukrainian resistance along) those few kilometers,” Haidai said. “It is difficult to count how many thousands of shells this territory of the free Luhansk region has withstood over the past month and a half.”

Further west, the governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region reported further Russian shelling of the town of Nikopol, which lies across the Dnieper River. The largest nuclear power plant in Europe.

Governor Yevhen Yevtushenko did not say whether Russian troops fired on Nikopol from the occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. Writing on Telegram, he said on Saturday there were no casualties but residential buildings, a power line and a gas pipeline were damaged.

Nikopol has come under daily shelling for most of the past week, and a volley of shells killed three people and damaged 40 apartment buildings on Thursday, he said.

Russian and Ukrainian officials have accused each other of bombing the Zaporizhzhia power plant in violation of nuclear safety rules. Russian troops have occupied the plant since the early days of the Moscow invasion, although Ukrainian nuclear workers at the facility continue to run it.

Ukrainian military intelligence said on Saturday that Russian troops were shelling the plant from a village a few kilometers away, damaging a pumping station and a fire station. The intelligence leadership said the Russians transported people to the power plant and mounted a Ukrainian flag on a gun on the outskirts of Enerhodar, the town where the plant is located.

“Obviously it will be used for yet another provocation to blame the Ukrainian armed forces,” the leadership said, without giving further details.

Ukrainian officials have repeatedly claimed that Russian forces were using the plant as a shield while firing on Ukrainian communities across the river, knowing that Ukrainian forces were unlikely to retaliate for fear of triggering an accident. nuclear.

They said Russian shelling on Friday night killed a woman and injured two other civilians in the town of Zaporizhzhia. The Mykolaiv region in southern Ukraine also said a woman died there in shelling.

For several weeks, the Ukrainian army has been trying to lay the foundations for a a counter-offensive to recapture the Russian-occupied Kherson region in southern Ukraine. A local Ukrainian official reported on Saturday that a Ukrainian strike had damaged the last working bridge over the Dnieper in the region, further crippling Russian supply lines.

“The Russians no longer have the capacity to fully return their equipment,” Serhii Khlan, deputy to the Kherson Regional Council, wrote on Facebook.

The UK Ministry of Defense said on Saturday that damage to bridges over the Dnieper meant that “land resupply for the several thousand Russian troops on the west bank almost certainly depends on just two pontoon ferry crossings”.

“Even if Russia manages to make significant repairs to the (damaged) bridges, they will remain a key vulnerability,” the Brits said.

On Saturday, the deputy director of the Russian-controlled Kakhovka hydroelectric power station, 60 kilometers (37 miles) upstream from the city of Kherson, said one of its generating units was out of service after a Ukrainian missile strike. Arseniy Zelenskyy said further strikes could endanger the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant because its water intakes use the reservoir formed by the Kakhovka power plant dam.

A few days after the explosions in a Russian air base in Crimea destroyed up to a dozen planes, a Ukrainian presidential adviser said Kyiv should make recapturing the Black Sea peninsula that Moscow annexed in 2014 one of its war goals.

“Russia started a war against Ukraine and the world in 2014, with its brazen takeover of Crimea. It is obvious that this war should end with the liberation of Crimea,” Mykhailo Podoylak, the chief of staff of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, wrote on Twitter on Saturday. “And also with the legal punishment of the initiators of the ‘special military operation'” – the Kremlin’s term for its war in Ukraine.

Ukrainian officials have not claimed responsibility for the explosions that occurred Tuesday at Saki airbase in Crimea. Russian defense officials have denied that any aircraft were damaged – or that an attack even took place – blaming the explosions on on-site ordnance detonating.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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