Ukraine Claims It Has Begun Counter-Offensive to Retake Russian-Held South

By Reuters
Reuters
Reuters
August 29, 2022 Updated: August 29, 2022

ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine/KYIV—Ukraine announced on Monday 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 U.N. nuclear watchdog headed to Ukraine to inspect the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant—controlled by Russian forces since 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 Chornobyl 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.

Ukraine has been using Western-supplied weapons to hit Russian ammunition dumps and wreak havoc with supply lines. Humeniuk told a briefing on Monday that Ukraine had struck more than 10 such ammunition dumps in the past week, claiming they had “unquestionably weakened the enemy.”

She declined to give details of the counter-offensive, saying Russian forces in southern Ukraine remained “quite powerful.”

The governor of 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 58 km (36 miles) to the east of Kherson, after Ukrainian forces carried out more than 10 missile strikes there.

Nuclear Safety

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.

Overview of Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant
Overview of Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and fires, in Enerhodar in Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine, on Aug. 24, 2022. (European Union, Copernicus Sentinel-2 imagery via Reuters)

“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 posted on Twitter 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.

Russia’s defense ministry said its forces had shot down a Ukrainian drone that was trying to attack the nuclear power station, Russian news agencies reported. It said there was no serious damage and radiation levels were normal.

Reuters could not independently verify either report.

The Kremlin said the IAEA mission was “necessary” and urged the international community to pressure Ukraine to reduce military tensions at the plant.

The United Nations, United States, and Ukraine have called for a withdrawal of military equipment and personnel from the nuclear complex to ensure it is not a target. But the Kremlin again ruled out vacating the site.

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the IAEA mission must carry out its work in a politically neutral manner. “They must be objective,” she told Rossiya 24 television channel.

Two of the plant’s reactors were cut off from the electrical grid last week due to shelling.

Sweden, which along with Finland plans to join NATO in response to Russia’s invasion, announced nearly $50 million worth of additional military aid to Ukraine on Monday during a visit to Stockholm by Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.

Kuleba urged Sweden to provide weapons such as howitzers and shells.

Germany will also send more arms to Ukraine in coming weeks and help upgrade Kyiv’s artillery and air defense capacities, Chancellor Olaf Scholz told a conference in Prague, where he also reaffirmed German support for Ukraine and several other ex-Soviet republics to join the European Union.

By Andrea Shalal and Max Hunder

Reuters