KYIV, Aug 23 ― Ukraine's capital Kyiv banned public celebrations this week commemorating independence from Soviet rule, citing a heightened threat of Russian attack in a war the United Nations said yesterday has killed nearly 5,600 civilians, including many children.
Near frontlines in the south of the country, Ukraine said Russia fired rockets into several towns north and west of Europe's largest nuclear power plant, captured by Russian forces shortly after they invaded Ukraine in February.
Artillery and rocket fire near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear reactor complex, on the south bank of the Dnipro River, has led to calls for the area to be demilitarised. Ukrainians living near the plant voiced fears shells could hit one of the plant's six reactors, with potentially disastrous consequences.
“Of course, we are worried. ... It's like sitting on a powder keg,” said Alexander Lifirenko, a resident of the nearby town of Enerhodar, now under control of pro-Moscow forces.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has warned that Moscow could try “something particularly ugly” in the run-up to Wednesday's 31st independence anniversary, which also marks half a year since Russia invaded.
Kyiv is far from the front lines and has only rarely been hit by Russian missiles since Ukrainian troops repelled a Russian ground offensive to seize the capital in March.
But Kyiv authorities have banned public events related to the anniversary from Monday until Thursday due to the possibility of renewed rocket attacks, a document showed.
Other jurisdictions also restricted public gatherings. In Kharkiv, a northeastern city that has come under frequent and deadly longer-range artillery and rocket fire, Mayor Ihor Terekhov announced an extension to an overnight curfew to run from 4pm to 7am effective from Tuesday to Thursday.
In the port of Mykolaiv near Russian-held territory to the south, regional governor Vitaliy Kim said authorities planned a precautionary order for residents to work from home on Tuesday and Wednesday and urged people not to gather in large groups.
In an evening address, Zelensky called for a new punitive measures on Russia from Europe, which is bracing for energy shortages after Moscow announced a three-day halt to some gas flows to the continent in apparent retaliation to European Union sanctions.
Russia denies this, blaming the cuts on the sanctions themselves and various technical problems.
“[The] only question is how many lives Russia will be able to take before the backlash from the international community becomes really tangible to those who are responsible,” Zelensky said in a Monday evening video address.
-Bridge attacked- Fears of intensified attacks rose 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 President Vladimir Putin called “evil”. Ukraine denies involvement.
The two sides have traded blame over frequent shelling at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, where Kyiv accuses Moscow of basing troops and storing military hardware. Russia denies this and accuses Ukraine of targeting Zaporizhzhia with drones.
Overnight, Russian forces fired rockets into the nearby towns of Nikopol, Krivyi Rih and Synelnykovskyi, the area's regional governor, Valentyn Reznichenko, wrote on Telegram.
Moscow requested a UN Security Council meeting be held on Tuesday to discuss the Zaporizhzhia plant, Russian state-owned news agency RIA reported, citing Deputy Ambassador to the UN Dmitry Polyanskiy.
To the south, renewed fighting and explosions were reported in Russian-occupied Kherson and in the Crimean peninsula, which Moscow annexed in 2014.
In Kherson, the sole bridge across the strategic Dnipro River was hit by high-precision HIMARS rockets supplied to Ukraine by the United States, injuring 15 people, a source in occupied Kherson's emergency services told Russia's Interfax news agency.
The bridge, a key crossing for Russian military transport in the region, has been repeatedly targeted by Ukrainian forces as they stage a counter-offensive to retake the Kherson region. A Kyiv interior ministry adviser said smoke was seen rising from the bridge.
Russian media reported explosions in the Crimean city of Sevastopol. The city's Russian-appointed governor said an anti-air defence system had been triggered nearby. Crimea has been rocked by a series of explosions in recent weeks, including a blast at a munitions depot that Moscow blamed on saboteurs.
Reuters was not able to independently verify the battlefield reports of either side.
-Civilian toll- Russia launched on February 24 what it calls a “special military operation” to demilitarise its smaller neighbour and protect Russian-speaking communities. Ukraine and its Western backers accuse Moscow of waging an imperial-style war of conquest.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, citing its monitoring mission in Ukraine, said on Monday 5,587 civilians had been killed and 7,890 wounded between February 24 and August 21, mainly from artillery, rocket and missile attacks.
Unicef, the UN children's agency, said at least 972 children have been killed or injured over six months of war.
“The use of explosive weapons has caused most of the child casualties. These weapons do not discriminate between civilian and combatant, especially when used in populated areas as has been the case in Ukraine,” the agency's executive director, Catherine Russell, said in a statement.
Separately, General Valeriy Zaluzhnyi ― Kyiv's army chief ― provided what appeared to be the first public Ukrainian military death toll, saying nearly 9,000 soldiers had died in action.
Russia has not said how many of its soldiers have been killed. Ukraine's General Staff have estimated the Russian military death toll at 45,400.
Reuters has been unable to verify military losses. ― Reuters