Despite facing stiff resistance from Russian soldiers, Kiev declared progress in its counteroffensive on the eastern and southern fronts on Thursday.
The head of the United Nations Atomic Energy Agency arrived in the southeastern province of Zaporizhzia — home to Europe’s largest nuclear facility and one of the current fronts — to assess the site’s hazards following the collapse of a key dam.
His visit came as Kyiv launched its long-awaited campaign to drive Russian forces from its soil, reinforced by Western arms and training.
Ukrainian artillery continued to attack Russian positions near the frontline hotspot of Bakhmut in the eastern Donetsk region, according to AFP correspondents.
Moscow claimed victory in Bakhmut last month after the longest battle of the war that claimed thousands of lives and left the city in ruins.
“The enemy is pulling up additional reserves and is trying with all its might to prevent the advance of Ukrainian forces,” Ukrainian Deputy Defence Minister Ganna Malyar told a briefing.
Malyar reported an advance of more than three kilometres (1.8 miles) in the area of Bakhmut over the past ten days.
Since the start of the offensive in early June Ukrainian forces have recaptured seven settlements and more than 100 square kilometres (under 40 square miles) of territory, said Oleksiy Gromov of the Ukrainian armed forces’ general staff.
“There is a gradual but steady advance of the armed forces” in the south, Malyar told reporters.
“At the same time, the enemy is putting up powerful resistance” on the southern front, she said, referring to mined fields, explosive drones and intense shelling.
Russia stated it had repulsed all Ukrainian attacks, with President Vladimir Putin saying this week that Ukraine had suffered “catastrophic” casualties.
The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power facility is located in the region where conflict has intensified.
Its security has been a key concern since Russian forces took it over a year ago, but the demolition of a neighboring dam has raised new concerns.
The Russian-held Kakhovka dam, which was destroyed last week in an attack blamed on both Kyiv and Moscow, formed a reservoir that supplied cooling water to the plant.
According to a Russian official, UN nuclear chief Rafael Grossi arrived at the site on Thursday to evaluate any damage.
Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, was initially expected to tour the site Wednesday.
“I want to make my own assessment,” Grossi said during a briefing in Kyiv this week.
“I want to go there, discuss with the management there what measures they are taking, and then make as I said a more definitive assessment of what kind of danger we have.”
‘No immediate danger’
Since the beginning of the conflict, Grossi has warned of the possibility of a nuclear accident at the plant, which houses a permanent IAEA staff.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has cautioned that the Kakhovka dam catastrophe, which prompted widespread evacuations, has worsened “an already precarious nuclear safety and security situation” at the plant.
Both Kiev and Moscow have accused each other of attacking the plant.
Ukraine reported that Russia carried out another round of strikes overnight, employing four missiles and 20 Iranian-made drones.
The Ukrainian military claimed to have intercepted all of the drones and one missile, with the remaining three crashing into the central city of Kryvyi Rig.
Russian troops already pummeled the hometown of President Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday, killing 12 people.
“Three rockets hit two industrial enterprises that had nothing to do with the military,” the head of the city’s military administration, Oleksandr Vilkul said.
The Russian army said it hit drone production sites, adding that “all the assigned targets have been hit.”
In recent weeks Ukraine has increased drone attacks on Russian-controlled territory.
In the latest incident, Russia’s forces downed nine drones over Moscow-annexed Crimea, the Moscow-installed governor, Sergei Aksyonov, said on Thursday.