Ukraine says Russia is preparing for next stage of offensive

Ukrainian authorities reported that Russian missile strikes and shelling had killed at least 16 civilians in cities across the country after Kremlin military leaders said they had ordered troops to ‘further intensify’ their actions in all the domains.

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Residents of Kyiv sought refuge on July 16 as air raid sirens sounded in the Ukrainian capital, while Ukraine’s top atomic official accused Russian troops occupying Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhya of the use to bombard nearby areas and store advanced weapons.

The reports could not be independently confirmed, but they come amid a wave of deadly Russian strikes on civilian sites, including an attack in the historic town of Vinnytsya on July 15 that killed 24 people.

Russia claimed the strike targeted officers’ quarters, but Ukrainian and US officials dismissed that claim and said the attacks hit civilian sites. At least 39 people are still missing following the strike.

After failing to take Kyiv at the start of the war, Russia focused on taking all of Donbass, consisting of the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.

But new attacks have also been reported in northern and southern Ukraine. The northeastern city of Kharkiv, the country’s second largest, has been ravaged by heavy shelling in recent days. Ukrainian officials have said the Kremlin’s next move could be a full-scale attack on the city of 1.45 million.

Serhiy Bolvinov, deputy chief of Kharkiv regional police, said Russian rockets hit a two-story building and other buildings.

“Four Russian rockets, presumably fired from about [the Russian city of] Belgorod at night, around 3:30 a.m., hit a residential building, a school and administrative buildings,” Bolvinov wrote on Facebook.

“The bodies of three people were found under the rubble. Three others were injured. The victims are civilians,” Bolvinov added.

On July 16, the Russian Defense Ministry said that Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu had given “instructions to further intensify the actions of units in all operational areas, in order to exclude the possibility that the regime of Kyiv launches massive rocket and artillery strikes on civilian infrastructure and settlement residents in the Donbass and other regions.

In the Donetsk region, site of the heaviest fighting, seven civilians have been killed and 14 injured in the past 24 hours in attacks on towns, its governor announced on July 16.

However, Serhiy Hayday, governor of nearby Lugansk region, said Ukrainian troops repelled an overnight Russian assault on a strategic eastern highway. He said Russian forces had been trying to seize the main road link between the towns of Lysychansk and Bakhmut “for more than two months”.

“They still can’t control many miles of this road,” Hayday wrote on Telegram.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in his late night video address on July 16 that air raid warnings were sounding across the country, including in Dnipro and Kremenchuk, two towns south of Kyiv along the Dnieper River.

He said the Russians “realize that we are gradually getting stronger” and use attacks on cities to “pressure” and “intimidate” Ukrainians.

Ukrainian Army General Staff said early on July 16 that their forces had succeeded in repelling the assault operations of Russian troops near the Spirne-Ivano-Daryivka areas of Donetsk.

Late on July 16, in Odessa, a key Black Sea port city that has yet to see heavy shelling, a Russian missile hit a warehouse, igniting and sending up a plume of black smoke. No injuries were immediately reported.

A day earlier, Maksym Marchenko, head of Odessa’s military administration, said Russian troops fired three missiles at the Odessa region, with one missile shot down by Ukrainian air defenses.

Elsewhere, the chairman of Ukraine’s Enerhoatom nuclear agency, Petro Kotin, said in a TV interview that the situation in Zaporizhzhya was “extremely tense” and that pressure on the Russians to release the region’s nuclear power plant was “insufficient”. .

About 500 Russian troops are said to control access to Zaporizhzhya, which sits on the Dnieper River in southeastern Ukraine and has been in Russian hands since the first weeks of the invasion.

“The occupiers are bringing their machines there, including missile systems, from which they are already bombarding the other side of the Dnieper and the Nikopol Territory,” Kotin said.

He also criticized the International Atomic Energy Agency’s handling of the situation around Zaporizhzhya, which before the war provided around a fifth of Ukraine’s energy.

“[The IAEA] plays political games, balancing Russia and Ukraine,” Kotin said.

With reports from the Ukrainian service of RFE/RL, Reuters, AFP and AP

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