Ukraine on Monday announced the start of a long-awaited counter-offensive to retake areas in the south seized by Russian forces since its invasion six months ago, a move reflecting growing confidence in Kiev as Western military aid flows.
The news came as a UN nuclear surveillance team traveled to Ukraine to inspect the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which was captured by Russian forces in March but is still operated by Ukrainian personnel and has become a flashpoint of the war.
Moscow and Kyiv exchanged accusations of bombing near the nuclear power plant, Europe’s largest and close to the frontline, amid fears of a radiation catastrophe in a country still reeling from the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
“Today we started offensive actions in different directions, including in the Kherson region,” Ukrainian public broadcaster Suspilne quoted Southern Command spokeswoman Natalia Humeniuk as saying.
Russia quickly captured parts of southern Ukraine near the Black Sea coast, including the city of Kherson, in the early stages of the war, in stark contrast to its failed attempt to capture the capital, Kyiv.
Ukraine has used sophisticated Western-supplied weapons to hit Russian ammunition dumps and ravage supply lines. Humeniuk said at a briefing on Monday that Ukraine had attacked more than 10 such ammunition depots over the past week, adding that they “undoubtedly weakened the enemy.”
She declined to give details of the counter-offensive, saying Russian forces in southern Ukraine remained “quite powerful”.
The governor of Russia’s annexed Crimea, Sergei Aksyonov, dismissed their announcement as “another fake Ukrainian propaganda”. Crimea borders on the Kherson region.
Russian news agency RIA, citing local official Vladimir Leontiev, reported that people were evacuated from workplaces in Nova Kahokva, a town 58 km (36 miles) east of Kherson, after Ukrainian forces carried out more than 10 rocket attacks there.
Earlier, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) announced that he would lead a team of inspectors to the Zaporizhzhia plant on the Dnipro River in south-central Ukraine this week, without specifying the expected date of their arrival.
“We must protect the safety of Ukraine’s and Europe’s largest nuclear facility,” Rafael Grossi said in a post on Twitter.
The IAEA separately tweeted that the mission would assess physical damage, assess the conditions in which personnel work at the facility and “determine the functionality of security systems.”
It would also “perform urgent security measures,” a reference to the tracking of nuclear materials.
On Monday, officials deployed by Russia said a Ukrainian missile attack punched a hole in the roof of a fuel storage facility at the Zaporizhia plant.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said its forces shot down a Ukrainian drone trying to attack the nuclear power plant, Russian news outlets reported. There was no serious damage and radiation levels were normal.
Reuters could not independently verify either report.
The Kremlin said the IAEA mission was “necessary” and called on the international community to put pressure on Ukraine to reduce military tensions at the factory.
The United Nations, United States and Ukraine have called for the withdrawal of military equipment and personnel from the nuclear complex to ensure it is not a target. But the Kremlin again ruled out clearing the site.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the IAEA mission must carry out its work in a politically neutral manner.
“You have to be objective,” she told TV channel Rossiya 24.
Russian forces have fired on Enerhodar, the town on the Dnipro River where the plant is located, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s chief of staff said on his Telegram channel late Sunday, alongside video of firefighters putting out burning cars.
“They provoke and try to blackmail the world,” said Andriy Yermak.
Liliia Vaulina, 22, is among a growing number of refugees from Enerhodar arriving in the Ukrainian-held town of Zaporizhzhia, some 50 km (30 miles) upstream from the facility, and said she hopes the IAEA mission will would lead to a demilitarization of their territory.
“I think they will stop the bombing,” she told Reuters.
Two of the plant’s reactors were unplugged last week due to shelling.
In the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, Russian forces have shelled military and civilian infrastructure near Bakhmut, Shumy, Yakovlivka, Zaytsevo and Kodema, Ukrainian military said early Monday.
Russian attacks killed eight civilians in Donetsk province on Sunday, its governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said.
Moscow denies attacks on civilians.
Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special military operation” to demilitarize its southern neighbor. Ukraine, which gained independence after the collapse of the Russian-dominated Soviet Union in 1991, and its Western allies have dismissed it as a baseless pretext for a war of conquest.
The invasion of Ukraine sparked Europe’s most devastating conflict since World War II.
Thousands of people were killed, millions displaced and cities reduced to rubble. The war has also threatened the world economy with an energy and food supply crisis.
On Monday, Zelenskyy accused Russia of trying to prevent European nations from filling up their gas storage facilities sufficiently for the coming winter.
Sweden, which along with Finland plans to join NATO in response to Russia’s invasion, announced nearly $50 million worth of additional military aid Monday during a visit by Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba to Stockholm.
Kuleba requested Sweden to provide weapons such as howitzers and grenades. “Every euro, every bullet, every grenade counts,” he said.
Germany will also send more arms to Ukraine in the coming weeks and help improve Kiev’s artillery and air defense capabilities, Chancellor Olaf Scholz told a conference in Prague, where he also expressed German support for Ukraine’s accession and several others of former Soviet republics to the European Union.
https://www.independent.ie/news/ukraine-counter-offensive-under-way-to-retake-russian-held-south-41945146.html Ukraine counter-offensive to retake Russian-held south underway