- Ukraine launches new offensive against Russian-held south
- UN inspectors will visit Ukrainian reactor complex this week
- UN Observatory Director General Grossi leads the mission
- Moscow says team must give politically neutral assessment
- Russia claims to have shot down a Ukrainian drone at a nuclear power plant
MYKOLAIV, Ukraine/KYIV, Aug 29 (Reuters) – Ukrainian troops, bolstered by increased Western military aid, launched a long-awaited counter-offensive on Monday to retake southern territory from Russian forces, the country said. Ukrainian army.
Moscow acknowledged that a new offensive had been launched but said it had failed and the Ukrainians had suffered significant casualties.
The southern port city of Mykolaiv, meanwhile, came under heavy Russian bombardment, with the mayor saying houses were hit and at least two people were killed.
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The offensive came after several weeks of relative stalemate in the war that erupted when Russian troops crossed into Ukraine on February 24. The conflict had largely settled into a war of attrition, mainly in the south and east, marked by artillery bombardment and airstrikes.
Russia had captured swaths of southern Ukraine near the Black Sea coast, including the city of Kherson, at the start of the war.
Spokeswoman for Ukraine’s Southern Command, Natalia Humeniuk, said her troops had launched offensive actions in several southern directions, including in the Kherson region, located north of the Crimean peninsula annexed by Russia. .
Ukraine has used sophisticated weapons supplied by the West to strike Russian munitions dumps and wreak havoc on supply lines. Humeniuk told a briefing that Ukraine had struck more than 10 sites in the past week and had “unquestionably weakened the enemy”.
She declined to give details of the counteroffensive, saying Russian forces in southern Ukraine remained “quite strong”.
Crimean Governor Sergei Aksyonov called his announcement “Ukrainian propaganda”.
In Moscow, the Defense Ministry said Ukrainian troops attempted an offensive in the southern regions of Mykolaiv and Kherson, but suffered heavy casualties, the RIA news agency reported.
“The enemy’s offensive attempt failed miserably,” he said.
The RIA news agency, quoting local official Vladimir Leontiev, separately reported that people were being evacuated from workplaces in Nova Kahokva, 58 km (36 miles) east of Kherson, after Ukrainian forces carried out more than 10 missile strikes.
Reuters could not independently verify reports from the battlefield.
West of Kherson, Russian shelling hit residential areas of Mykolaiv on Monday, killing two people and destroying homes, city officials and witnesses said.
A Reuters correspondent at the scene said the strike hit a family home right next to a school, killing a woman. The two houses on the property were left in ruins, with large craters carved into the ground in front.
Mayor Oleksandr Senkevych said at least two people were killed and homes and schools were hit. Governor Vitaliy Kim said 24 people were also injured.
The owner of the house, Olexandr Shulga, told Reuters he had lived there all his life.
Shulga said his wife – who was in another room when the missile hit – died when she was buried in the debris.
“He hit and the shock wave came. He destroyed everything,” said a shocked Shulga, who had a bandage on his head.
A shipbuilding center and port on the Southern Bug River just off the Black Sea, Mykolaiv suffered heavy Russian bombardment throughout the war but remained in Ukrainian hands.
An International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) mission to the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine was due to arrive in Kyiv on Monday, Ukraine’s foreign ministry said. It should start work in the next few days.
The factory – captured by Russian forces in March but still run by Ukrainian personnel – has become a very dangerous focal point. Moscow and Kyiv have traded accusations of bombing near the facility, Europe’s largest nuclear power plant.
The mission – led by IAEA chief Rafael Grossi – will assess physical damage, assess working conditions and check safety and security systems, the Vienna-based IAEA said. It “will also carry out urgent safeguards activities”, a reference to the tracking of nuclear materials.
On Monday, Russian-installed officials said a Ukrainian missile strike ripped a hole in the roof of a fuel depot at the plant.
The Russian Defense Ministry said its forces shot down a Ukrainian drone that was trying to attack the compound, Russian news agencies reported. He said there was no serious damage and radiation levels were normal. Read more
Reuters could not independently verify either report.
The Kremlin said the IAEA mission was “necessary” and urged the international community to pressure Ukraine to reduce military tensions at the plant. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the IAEA mission must carry out its work in a politically neutral manner.
The United Nations, United States and Ukraine have called for the withdrawal of military equipment and personnel from the complex to ensure it is not a target. Read more But the Kremlin again ruled out leaving the site.
Russian forces fired on Enerhodar, the Dnipro-river town where the plant is located, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s chief of staff said on his Telegram channel on Sunday alongside video of firefighters hosing down burning cars.
Liliia Vaulina, 22, one of many civilians who had fled Enerhodar for the Ukrainian town of Zaporizhzhia, about 50 km (30 miles) upriver from the plant, said she hoped the mission of the IAEA would lead to a demilitarization of its area. .
“I think they will stop the shelling,” she told Reuters.
Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special military operation” to demilitarize its southern neighbor. Ukraine, which gained independence in the breakup of the Russian-dominated Soviet Union in 1991, and its Western allies have dismissed it as a baseless pretext for a war of conquest.
Thousands of people have been killed, millions displaced and cities reduced to rubble. The war also threatened the world economy with a crisis in energy and food supplies.
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Reporting by Max Hunder and Pavel Polityuk in Kyiv and Reuters offices; Written by Gareth Jones and Angus MacSwan; Editing by Mark Heinrich, Alex Richardson and Nick Macfie
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