Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, banned public celebrations this week to commemorate independence from Soviet rule, citing a heightened threat of Russian attack in a war that the United Nations said on Monday has killed more than 5,500 civilians.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned on the weekend of the risk of more severe attacks ahead of Ukraine’s 31st anniversary of independence from Russian-dominated Soviet rule on Wednesday.
In a weekend video address, he said Moscow could try “something particularly ugly” in the run-up to Wednesday, which also marks half a year since Russia invaded.
Local authorities in Kyiv have banned large public events, rallies and other gatherings related to the anniversary from Monday until Thursday due to the possibility of rocket attacks, according to a document published by the Kyiv military administration.
Kyiv is far from the front lines and has only rarely been hit by Russian missiles since Ukrainian defenders repelled a Russian ground offensive to seize the capital in March.
Separately, a US official told Reuters that the US has intelligence that Russia is planning to launch fresh attacks against Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure and government facilities soon.
“We have information that Russia is stepping up efforts to launch strikes against Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure and government facilities in the coming days. Given Russia’s track record in Ukraine, we are concerned about the continued threat that Russian strikes pose to civilians and civilian infrastructure,” the official said.
The official said the statement was based on downgraded US intelligence.
Fears of intensified attacks were likely to rise after Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) accused Ukrainian secret services on Monday of killing Darya Dugina, daughter of a Russian ultra-nationalist ideologue, in a suspected car bombing on Saturday, Russian news agencies reported. Ukraine has denied being involved.
New front lines
Russia launched what it calls a “special military operation” on Feb. 24 to demilitarize its smaller neighbor and protect Russian-speaking communities. Ukraine and its Western backers accuse Moscow of waging an imperial-style war of conquest.
The conflict, Europe’s biggest since the Second World War, has destroyed towns and cities, killed thousands of people, forced millions to flee abroad and deepened a volatile geopolitical standoff between Russia and the West.
Since Russian forces retreated in disarray from Kyiv early in the war, they have concentrated on seizing the rest of the eastern Donbas region, partially held by separatist proxies since 2014, and holding on to capture swathes of the south.
In Donetsk province, which is part of the Donbas, Russian artillery and multiple rocket launchers battered Soledar, Zaytseve and Bilohorivka near the city of Bakhmut, and at least two civilians were killed, Ukrainian authorities said. Russia denies targeting civilians.
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 4 pm to 7 am effective from Tuesday to Thursday.
In the latest sign of a planned Ukrainian counteroffensive to retake the Russian-occupied Kherson region in the south, smoke was rising from the sole bridge across the Dnipro in Kherson city, a Kyiv interior ministry adviser said.
A source in occupied Kherson’s emergency services told Russia’s Interfax news agency that the Antonivka Road Bridge was hit by high-precision HIMARS rockets supplied to Ukraine by the United States, and that 15 people had been injured.
The bridge, a key means of Russian military transport in the region, has been repeatedly targeted by Ukrainian forces.
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.
Reuters was not able to independently verify the battlefield reports of either side.
Artillery and rocket fire at a nuclear reactor complex in the southern region of Zaporizhzhia, on the Russian-occupied south bank of the Dnipro River, has stirred fears of a nuclear disaster and led to calls for the surrounding area to be demilitarized.
Ukraine and Russia have traded blame for repeated incidents of shelling in and around the Zaporizhzhia complex in recent weeks.
Kyiv has accused Moscow of basing troops and storing military hardware on the grounds of the power station and using it as a shield from which to bombard Kyiv government-controlled territory to the west and north. Russia denies this and accuses Ukraine of targeting the plant with shells and drones.
Moscow requested a UN Security Council meeting to be held on Tuesday to discuss the plant, Russian state-owned news agency RIA reported, citing deputy ambassador to the UN Dmitry Polyanskiy.
Overnight on Monday, Russian forces fired rockets into Nikopol, just across the Dnipro from the plant on its south bank, as well as the Krivyi Rih and Synelnykovskyi districts further out to the northwest and northeast respectively, regional Governor Valentyn Reznichenko wrote on Telegram.
In a phone call on Sunday, US President Joe Biden, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson welcomed recent discussions on enabling a mission by the UN nuclear watchdog agency to Zaporizhzhia.
Thousands killed so far
The Office of the UN 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 as of Aug. 21, mainly from artillery, rocket and missile attacks.
Separately on Monday, 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 has estimated the Russian military death toll at 45,400.
Reuters has been unable to verify the military losses on either side.