Russia has carried out artillery and airstrikes in the Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine’s general staff said on Tuesday, where fighting near Europe’s largest nuclear power plant has raised fears of a catastrophic nuclear accident.
The attacks come ahead of Ukraine’s Independence Day on Wednesday, commemorating liberation from Soviet rule, with Kyiv banning public celebrations citing the threat of further attacks.
The US Embassy in Kyiv also warned in a statement against Russian plans to strike civilian and government infrastructure in the coming days.
Near the front lines in the south of the country, Ukraine said Russia fired artillery and carried out airstrikes in several towns in the Zaporizhzhia region, where Russian forces captured the nuclear power plant soon after. their invasion on February 24.
Artillery and rocket fire near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear reactor complex on the southern bank of the Dnipro River led to calls for the demilitarization of the area.
Ukrainians living nearby have expressed fears that shells could hit one of the plant’s six reactors, with disastrous consequences.
“Of course we are worried… It’s like sitting on a powder keg,” Alexander Lifirenko, a resident of the nearby town of Enerhodar, said on Monday.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has warned that Moscow may attempt “something particularly ugly” ahead of the 31st anniversary of independence on Wednesday, which also marks six months since the invasion of Russia.
Fearing further rocket attacks, authorities in Kyiv have decided to ban public events related to the anniversary of independence from Monday to Thursday. The capital is far from the front lines and has only rarely been hit by Russian missiles since Ukraine repelled a ground offensive to seize the capital in March.
In Kharkiv, a northeastern city that has suffered frequent and deadly long-range artillery and rocket fire, Mayor Ihor Terekhov announced an extension of the night curfew from 4 p.m. to 7 a.m. from Tuesday to Thursday .
Fears of attacks grew after Russia’s Federal Security Service on Monday accused Ukrainian agents of killing Darya Dugina, daughter of a Russian ultra-nationalist ideologue, in a car bomb attack near Moscow that the President Vladimir Putin called it “evil”. Ukraine denies any involvement.
The two sides have traded blame over frequent bombings of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, where Kyiv accuses Moscow of basing troops and stockpiling military equipment. Russia denies this and accuses Ukraine of targeting Zaporizhzhia with drones.
Moscow has called for a UN Security Council meeting on Tuesday to discuss the Zaporizhzhia plant, Russian news agency RIA reported, citing Deputy UN Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy.
Russia launched on February 24 what it calls a “special military operation” to demilitarize its small neighbor and protect Russian-speaking communities. Ukraine and its Western backers accuse Moscow of waging an imperial-style war of conquest.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, citing its monitoring mission in Ukraine, said on Monday that 5,587 civilians had been killed and 7,890 injured between February 24 and August 21, mainly as a result of artillery, rocket and missile attacks.
UNICEF, the UN children’s agency, said at least 972 children have been killed or injured in the six-month war.
“The use of explosive weapons caused most casualties among children. These weapons do not discriminate between civilians and combatants, especially when used in populated areas as has been the case in Ukraine” , the agency’s executive director, Catherine Russell, said in a statement. statement.
Separately, General Valeriy Zaluzhnyi – the head of the Ukrainian military – provided what appeared to be the first public Ukrainian military death toll, claiming that nearly 9,000 soldiers had died in combat.
Russia did not say how many of its soldiers were killed. The Ukrainian General Staff put the number of Russian military dead at 45,400.
Reuters was unable to verify military casualties.