Russian forces make renewed push to take eastern Ukraine towns

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KYIV, Ukraine — At least three civilians were killed and others wounded in Ukraine on Friday and Saturday, as Russian forces continued to shell areas across the country and pushed forward near an embattled eastern city, local Ukrainian officials reported Saturday.

A man died as Russian forces shelled the Ukrainian-held town of Nikopol from their stronghold at Ukraine’s largest nuclear plant, according to Ukrainian local Gov. Serhii Lysak. Lysak said that emergency services in Nikopol were working to assess the damage.

Russian troops took over the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant early in the war, sparking intermittent fears of a radiation incident as shelling persisted near the site, often targeting Ukrainian-controlled settlements across the Dnieper River.

In Kryvyi Rih, the central Ukraine hometown of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, a 60-year-old man died on Friday evening when a Russian missile slammed into an industrial facility, according to Telegram posts by Mayor Oleksandr Vilkul. The man’s wife was hospitalized with serious shrapnel wounds, Vilkul said.

The mayor reported that Russian missiles and drones hit the same place again overnight, causing unspecified damage and sparking a fire that was put out by morning. Vilkul did not elaborate on the site’s nature or whether it was linked to Ukraine’s war effort. He said nobody was hurt in the second strike.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesperson Igor Konashenkov later told reporters that Russian forces destroyed the Ukrainian military’s fuel and ammunition depots near Kryvyi Rih’s local airport.

There was no immediate response from Ukrainian officials to Konashenkov’s claim.

In southern Ukraine’s frontline Kherson region, one civilian was killed and another wounded during “mass shelling” attacks by Russian troops, Gov. Oleksandr Prokudin said Saturday. The Russians used mortars, artillery, tanks, drones, and multiple-rocket launchers to target the region, striking some residential areas, Prokudin wrote in a Telegram post.

Russian shelling over the past day also wounded one civilian in the front-line city of Avdiivka, in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region, acting local Gov. Ihor Moroz reported on Saturday. Avdiivka has been fiercely contested by Russian and Ukrainian forces in recent weeks as Kyiv’s forces try to hold off a renewed Russian assault.

Moroz said that exploding drones, missiles, mortars and artillery shells fired by Russian troops also struck other parts of the region.

Russian troops on Friday launched a fresh offensive north of Avdiivka that has secured minor gains, according to an analysis by the Institute for the Study of War. The Washington-based think tank cited geolocated footage from pro-Kremlin “military bloggers” on the ground to support its assessment.

Moscow’s renewed push near Avdiivka reflects the Russian military command’s commitment to offensive operations in the area “despite heavy materiel and personnel losses,” the institute said.

The Ukrainian General Staff on Friday claimed that Ukrainian forces had damaged and destroyed almost 50 Russian tanks and over 100 armored vehicles in the fighting near Avdiivka during the previous day. The claim that could not be independently verified.

Oleksandr Shputun, a spokesperson for the Ukrainian army unit fighting near Avdiivka, said in televised remarks Saturdays that Russian military activity in the area had “decreased slightly,” possibly due to heavy losses. However, Shputun acknowledged that Russian units continued to advance.

In the northeastern Kharkiv region, a 39-year-old civilian man was hospitalized with wounds as Russian shelling hit two village homes near the embattled town of Kupiansk, Gov. Oleh Syniehubov reported on Saturday. Russian forces have for weeks been pressing an offensive to retake territory near Kupiansk and the nearby town of Lyman.

The governor of Russia’s southern Belgorod region, which borders Ukraine, said Saturday that Ukrainian forces shelled two of the province’s districts with mortars and grenade launchers the previous day. According to Gov. Vyacheslav Gladkov, no civilians were hurt.

Elsewhere, a top Ukrainian presidential adviser reported that four Ukrainian children who were released from Russian captivity on Monday have been reunited with their families.

According to the Telegram post by Andriy Yermak, a 17-year-old girl and three boys ages 9, 6 and 3, were captured by occupying Russian forces in southern and eastern Ukraine. Yermak said one of the boys was transferred to an orphanage in southern Russia, while another was forcibly taken to Russian-annexed Crimea.

Deportations of Ukrainian children have been a concern since Russia’s Feb. 24, 2022, invasion of Ukraine. The International Criminal Court increased pressure on Moscow when it issued arrest warrants in March for President Vladimir Putin and Russia’s children’s rights commissioner, Maria Lvova-Belova, accusing them of abducting children from Ukraine.

State media in Kremlin-allied Belarus have also published reports on children arriving in the country from Ukraine’s occupied territories, ostensibly to join “health recuperation programs.”

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