Ukraine on Monday announced the start of a long-awaited counter-offensive to retake territory in the south seized by Russian forces since their invasion six months ago, a move reflecting Kyiv’s growing confidence as Western military aid flows in.
The news came as a team from the UN nuclear watchdog headed to Ukraine to inspect the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant — captured by Russian forces in March but still run by Ukrainian staff — that has become a hotspot in the war.
Moscow and Kyiv have traded accusations of shelling in the vicinity of the nuclear plant, Europe’s largest and close to front lines, amid fears of a radiation disaster in a country still haunted by the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
“Today we started offensive actions in various directions, including in the Kherson region,” Ukrainian public broadcaster Suspilne cited Southern Command Spokeswoman Natalia Humeniuk as saying.
Russia rapidly captured swathes of Ukraine’s south near the Black Sea coast, including the city of Kherson, in the early phase of the war in stark contrast to its failed attempt to capture the capital Kyiv.
Ukraine has been using sophisticated Western-supplied weapons to hit Russian ammunition dumps and wreak havoc with supply lines. Ms Humeniuk told a briefing on Monday that Ukraine had struck more than 10 such ammunition dumps in the past week, adding they had “unquestionably weakened the enemy”. The governor of Ukraine’s Russian-annexed Crimea Peninsula, Sergei Aksyonov, dismissed her announcement as “another fake of Ukrainian propaganda”. Crimea is adjacent to the Kherson region.
Russia’s RIA news agency, quoting local official Vladimir Leontiev, reported that people were being evacuated from workplaces in Nova Kahokva, a town 58km to the east of Kherson, after Ukrainian forces carried out more than 10 missile strikes there.
IAEA team to visit Zaporizhzhia
Earlier, the head of the International Atomic Agency (IAEA) said he would lead a team of inspectors this week to the Zaporizhzhia plant, on the Dnipro river in southern central Ukraine, without specifying the expected day of their arrival.
“We must protect the safety and security of Ukraine’s and Europe’s biggest nuclear facility,” Rafael Grossi said in a post on Twitter.
The IAEA tweeted separately that the mission would assess physical damage, evaluate the conditions in which staff are working at the plant and “determine functionality of safety & security systems”. It would also “perform urgent safeguards activities”, a reference to keeping track of nuclear material.
On Monday Russian-installed officials said a Ukrainian missile strike had punched a hole in the roof of a fuel depot at the Zaporizhzhia plant.