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Associated Press

Russian forces begin assault on two eastern Ukraine cities

Russian forces have began an assault on two key cities in Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) - Russian forces began an assault Saturday on two key cities in the eastern Donetsk region and kept up rocket and shelling attacks on other Ukrainian cities, including one close to Europe's largest nuclear power plant, Ukraine's military and local officials said.

Both cities of Bakhmut and Avdiivka had been considered key targets of Russia's ongoing offensive across Ukraine's east, with analysts saying Moscow needs to take Bakhmut if it is to advance on the regional hubs of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk.

“In the Donetsk direction, the enemy is conducting an offensive operation, concentrating its main efforts on the Bakhmut and Avdiivka directions. It uses ground attack and army aviation,” the Ukrainian General Staff said on Facebook.

Russian shelling killed five civilians and injured 14 others in the Donetsk region in the last day, Donetsk governor Pavlo Kyrylenko wrote Saturday on Telegram, saying two died in Poprosny, and one each in Avdiivka, Soledar and Pervomaiskiy.

The governor of the eastern Dnipropetrovsk region said three civilians were injured after Russian rockets fell on a residential neighborhood in Nikopol, a city across the Dnieper River from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station. The nuclear plant has been under Russian control since Moscow's troops seized it early in the war.

“After midnight, the Russian army struck the Nikopol area with (Soviet-era) Grad rockets, and the Kryvyi Rih area from barrel artillery,” Valentyn Reznichenko wrote on Telegram.

Ukrainian authorities also said a Russian missile attack overnight damaged unspecified infrastructure in the regional capital of Zaporizhzhia. On Thursday, Russia fired 60 rockets at Nikopol, damaging 50 residential buildings in the city of 107,000 and leaving residents without electricity.

Rafael Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, warned this week that the situation was becoming more perilous day by day at the Zaporizhzhia plant.

“Every principle of nuclear safety has been violated” at the plant, he said. “What is at stake is extremely serious and extremely grave and dangerous.”

He expressed concern about the way the plant is being operated and the danger posed by the fighting going on around it. Experts at the U.S.-based Institute for the Study of War said they believe Russia is shelling the area intentionally, “putting Ukraine in a difficult position.”

The Ukrainian company operating the nuclear power station said Saturday that Russian troops are using the plant's basement to hide from Ukrainian shelling and have barred its Ukrainian staff from going there.

“Ukrainian personnel do not yet have access to these premises, so in the event of new shelling, people have no shelter and are in danger,” Enerhoatom, a Ukrainian state enterprise, said on its Telegram channel.

Enerhoatom said Friday that Russian rockets had damaged the plant's facilities, including a nitrogen-oxygen unit and a high-voltage power line. Local Russian-appointed officials acknowledged the damage, but blamed it on alleged Ukrainian shelling.

In Ukraine's south, two civilians were seriously injured Saturday after Russian forces fired rockets on the Black Sea port of Mykolayiv before dawn, according to regional authorities. That followed a Friday afternoon attack on Mykolayiv that killed one person and wounded 21 others.

In the north, Ukraine's second-largest city of Kharkiv and its surrounding area also came under Russian rocket fire again overnight, according to regional governor Oleh Syniehubov. A 18-year-old in Chuhuiv, a town near Kharkiv, had to be hospitalized Saturday after he picked up an unexploded shell.

Both Chuhuiv and Kharkiv have endured sustained Russian shelling in recent weeks, due to their proximity to the Russian border.

The neighboring Sumy region, which also borders Russia, has also seen near-constant shelling and missile strikes. Its regional governor said Saturday the province was hit more than 60 times from Russian territory over the previous day, and one wounded civilian had to be hospitalized.

On the ammunition front, Russia has begun using Iranian combat drones in the war, Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said in a YouTube address, adding that Tehran had transferred 46 drones to the Russian army.

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Follow all AP stories on the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine.

A local resident, back, tries to stop the fire at a neighbor's house destroyed by a Russian attack in Mykolaiv, Ukraine, Friday, Aug. 5, 2022. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
A rescue worker puts out the fire at the house destroyed by a Russian attack in Mykolaiv, Ukraine, Friday, Aug. 5, 2022. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
FILE - Workers load bags of flour into a truck at the Big Mills factory in the southern town of Sebline, south of Beirut, Lebanon, March 15, 2022. Russia's war in Ukraine has threatened food supplies in countries like Lebanon, which has the world's highest rate of food inflation, 122%, and depends on the Black Sea region for nearly all of its wheat. The Razoni, loaded up with 26,000 tons of corn, is the first cargo ship to leave Ukraine since the Russian invasion, and set sail from Odesa Monday, August 1, 2022. Its final destination is Lebanon, with estimated arrival date on Saturday, Aug. 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein, File)
A view of the headquarters of the Mykolaiv Regional Military Administration building destroyed by a Russian attack in Mykolaiv, Ukraine, Friday, Aug. 5, 2022. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
A Ukrainian serviceman walks inside of the headquarters of the Mykolaiv Regional Military Administration building destroyed by a Russian attack in Mykolaiv, Ukraine, Friday, Aug. 5, 2022. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
A rescue worker stands on the roof of a house damaged by a Russian attack in Mykolaiv, Ukraine, Friday, Aug. 5, 2022. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
Ukrainian soldier Vyacheslav Timohovich holds the stuffed owl toy his seven-year-old daughter gave him to keep him safe as he serves with the Dnipro-1 regiment near Sloviansk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Friday, Aug. 5, 2022. Timohovich, who goes by the nickname "Owl," always keeps the stuffed toy from his daughter tucked inside his body armor. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
A Ukrainian serviceman stands in front of headquarters of the Mykolaiv Regional Military Administration building destroyed by a Russian attack in Mykolaiv, Ukraine, Friday, Aug. 5, 2022. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
Ukrainian soldier Igor Ryazantsev with the Dnipro-1 regiment keeps watch outside his tent during a period of relative calm around their position near Sloviansk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Friday, Aug. 5, 2022. Members of the unit believe a Russian advance could be impending with the aim of seizing the strategic city. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Ukrainian soldier Serhiy Artymyev with the Dnipro-1 regiment rests outside his tent during a period of relative calm around their position near Sloviansk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Friday, Aug. 5, 2022. Along with Donetsk, the neighboring Luhansk province, which has been nearly entirely controlled by Russia after Ukrainian forces withdrew in early July, makes up the industrial Donbas region which has been claimed by separatists since 2014. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
A dummy looks out from a position with the Ukrainian Dnipro-1 regiment during a period of relative calm around near Sloviansk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Friday, Aug. 5, 2022. While the lull in rocket strikes has offered a reprieve to remaining residents, some members of the Ukrainian military unit say it could be a prelude to renewed attacks. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Soldiers with the Dnipro-1 regiment place logs to fortify their position near Sloviansk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Friday, Aug. 5, 2022. From a position on the outskirts of the city, members with the Ukrainian military unit are expanding a network of trenches and digging bunkers capable of protecting soldiers against mortar strikes and phosphorous bombs. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Laundry hangs on a clothesline as a member of the Dnipro-1 regiment cleans his tent during a period of relative calm around their position near Sloviansk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Friday, Aug. 5, 2022. While the lull in rocket strikes has offered a reprieve to remaining residents, some members of the Ukrainian military unit say it could be a prelude to renewed attacks. (AP Photo/David Goldman)