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Rockets strike mayor’s office in separatist Donetsk

By SABRA AYRES

Kyiv, Ukraine (AP) – Pro-Kremlin officials on Sunday blamed Ukraine for a rocket attack that hit the mayor’s office in a key Ukrainian city controlled by the separatists, as the Russian war neared the eight-month mark.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian officials said Russian missiles hit a town opposite the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant, injuring six people.

The attacks on both sides came as Russia has been losing ground in the nearly seven weeks since Ukrainian forces launched their southern counteroffensive.

Last week, in retaliation, the Kremlin launched what is believed to be the largest coordinated air and missile strikes on Ukraine’s key infrastructure since Russia’s February 24 invasion.

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The mayor’s building in separatist-controlled Donetsk was badly damaged by the rocket attack. Plumes of smoke swirled around the building, which featured a row of blown out windows and a partially collapsed ceiling. Cars nearby were burned out.

There were no immediate reports of casualties. Kyiv did not immediately claim responsibility or comment on the attack.

Kremlin-backed separatist authorities have previously accused Ukraine of numerous attacks on infrastructure and residential targets in the occupied territories, often using US-supplied long-range HIMARS missiles, without providing corroborating information.

Separately, Ukrainian authorities reported on Sunday that at least six people were injured in Russian rocket attacks across from Zaporizhia, Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, where Russia has deployed its troops.

Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of the Ukrainian President’s Office, said two residents of Nikopol were hospitalized after the strikes, which also damaged five power lines, gas pipelines and a number of civilian shops and residential buildings.

Russia and Ukraine have repeatedly accused each other of firing on and around the plant, which continues to be run by Ukrainian personnel under Russian supervision.

Ukrainian officials have also regularly reported attacks on civilian communities across the Dnieper from the facility, including in Nikopol and near Marhanets.

The presidential office and regional authorities said Russian missiles destroyed two schools, a park and private homes in the southern Zaporizhia region, which has faced sustained Russian shelling since it was illegally annexed by Moscow along with three other Ukrainian provinces last month.

The announcement of the annexation came despite the fact that about 20% of Zaporizhia remains under Ukrainian military control, with some analysts citing the recent large-scale strikes as part of the Kremlin’s strategy to subdue the region.

The Presidential Office of Ukraine also said Moscow continues to shell civilian settlements along the front line in the eastern regions of Kharkiv and Lugansk, where Kyiv is also stepping up a counteroffensive. It added that “active hostilities” continued in the southern Kherson region, another focus of the ongoing Ukrainian advance, with repeated Russian attacks on a number of villages recently recaptured from Kyiv.

Russian officials, meanwhile, said their air defenses in the southern Belgorod region on the border with Ukraine shot down “at least” 16 Ukrainian missiles, Ria Novosti reported.

Regional governor Vyacheslav Gladkov wrote on Telegram that three members of the same family were injured by shelling.

He later added that a fourth victim was an elderly local resident.

“The old man is in shock. He will be provided with all necessary medical assistance,” said Gladkov. He said two other men with shrapnel wounds were hospitalized. He did not provide evidence for his report.

Russian authorities in border regions have repeatedly accused Kyiv of firing on their territory, claiming that civilians were injured in the attacks. Ukraine has neither claimed responsibility nor commented on the alleged attacks.

Russia has long used Belgorod as a base for shell and missile attacks on Ukrainian territory.

On Saturday, two men from a former Soviet republic who were training at a Russian military firing range in Belgorod shot volunteer soldiers during target practice, killing 11 and wounding 15 before killing themselves. The Russian Defense Ministry, which reported the killings, called the incident a terrorist attack.

Widespread retaliatory attacks by Russia this week, which included the use of self-destructing drones from Iran, killed dozens of people.

On Sunday, the French government confirmed it was pledging air defense missiles to protect Ukrainian cities from drone strikes and increased training for Ukrainian soldiers to shatter perceptions that France is lagging behind in helping Ukraine.

Up to 2,000 Ukrainian soldiers will be embedded in military units in France and undergo several weeks of combat training, more specialized training in logistics and other needs, and training on French-supplied equipment, French Defense Minister Sébastien Lecornu said in an interview published in Le Parisien on Sunday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Friday Moscow sees no need for more widespread strikes but that its military will continue selective strikes. He said that of 29 targets the Russian military intended to take out in this week’s attacks, seven were undamaged and were being taken out one by one.

The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, interpreted Putin’s remarks as wanting to counter criticism from pro-war Russian bloggers who “broadly praised the resumption of strikes against Ukrainian cities but warned that a short campaign would be ineffective.”

In an online update late Saturday, ISW accused Moscow of conducting “massive, forced deportations of Ukrainians” that likely amounted to ethnic cleansing.

The update was in reference to statements made this week by Russian authorities claiming that “several thousand” children from a Moscow-held southern region had been placed in rest homes and children’s camps in Russia amid an ongoing Ukrainian counter-offensive. The original statements by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin were reported by RIA Novosti agency on Friday.

Russian authorities have previously openly admitted giving up children from Russian-controlled areas of Ukraine, whom they described as orphans, to Russian families for adoption in a possible violation of a key international treaty aimed at preventing genocide.

Elsewhere on Sunday, Ukraine’s military accused pro-Kremlin militants of forcing civilians in occupied territories to house officers in their homes, an act it also called a violation of international humanitarian law.

The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said in its regular Facebook update that the evictions took place in the Russian-held city of Rubishne in the eastern Luhansk region, where Kyiv was ramping up a counteroffensive. It provided no corroborating evidence for his claim.

Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.

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