Russia launches air attacks on Ukraine ahead of key holiday

Concerns growing about the safety of the Zaporizhizhia nuclear power plant as civilians ordered to evacuate.

A firefighter works at the site of a resort area hit by a Russian missile strike, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine
A firefighter works at the site of a resort area hit by a Russian missile strike [Reuters]

Russia has launched dozens of missiles and drones towards Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities, injuring at least five people, amid growing concern about safety at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Europe’s biggest.

Ukraine’s top military command said it destroyed all 35 Iranian-made Shahed drones that were launched during the night, adding that Russia had also launched dozens of missiles.

“Unfortunately, there are dead and wounded civilians, high-rise buildings, private homes and other civilian infrastructure were damaged,” the General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said in its daily update.

The latest air assault comes as Moscow prepares to celebrate Victory Day, a major Russian holiday that marks the anniversary of its defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II and usually includes a military parade through Red Square.

At least five people were injured due to the air attacks on the capital, according to Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko, while Russian missiles left an Odesa warehouse packed with food on fire. Blasts were reported in several other Ukrainian regions.

Russia also intensified shelling of ruined Bakhmut, according to Ukraine’s top general in charge of the city’s defence, as it hopes to lock in gains ahead of the May 9 holiday. Once known as a salt-mining town, Bakhmut is seen by the Russians as a key target in order to secure its eastern advance.

Witnesses told the Reuters news agency that they had heard numerous explosions in Kyiv as local officials said air defence systems were repelling the attacks.

Three people were injured in explosions in Kyiv’s Solomyanskyi district, and two others were injured when drone wreckage fell onto the Sviatoshyn district, both west of the capital’s centre, Mayor Vitali Klitschko said on his Telegram messaging channel.

Kyiv’s military administration said that in the city’s central Shevchenkivskyi district, drone debris seemed to have hit a two-storey building, causing damage, and had also fallen onto a runway of the Zhuliany airport, one of the two passenger airports of the Ukrainian capital.

Serhii Bratchuk, a spokesperson for the Odesa military administration, posted on his Telegram channel photos of a large structure fully engulfed in flames in what he said was a Russian attack on a warehouse, among others.

After air raid alerts blared for hours over roughly two-thirds of Ukraine, there were also media reports of sounds of explosions in the southern region of Kherson and in the Zaporizhia region in the southeast, where the Zaporizhzhia nuclear complex is located.

Kyiv residents inspect debris from a drone that fell in their neighbourhood. They are dressed in sweaters and jackets and taking photos of what is left of the drone with their phones.
Drones were reported to have fallen in some areas of Kyiv as air defence systems shot them down [Oleksandr Khomenko/Reuters]

The Moscow-installed governor of the region has ordered civilian evacuations, including from Enerhodar, the city where most nuclear plant workers live.

International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Grossi has spent months trying to persuade Russian and Ukrainian officials to establish a protection zone around the plant to reduce the danger of a disaster. Nuclear plants need constant power to run cooling systems and avoid a meltdown, and the Zaporizhzhia plant has been knocked offline six times since the fighting began.

The Russian-installed governor of the region, Yegeny Balitsky, said on Sunday more than 1,500 people had been evacuated from two unspecified cities in the area. On Friday, he ordered civilians to leave 18 Russian-occupied communities, including Enerhodar. The Ukrainian General Staff confirmed the evacuation of Enerhodar was under way.

Moscow’s troops seized the plant soon after invading Ukraine last year, but Ukrainian employees have continued to run the facility during the occupation, at times under extreme duress.

In the past two weeks, attacks have also intensified on Russian-held targets, especially in Crimea, which Moscow invaded and annexed in 2014.

Ukraine, without confirming any role in those attacks, says destroying enemy infrastructure is preparation for its long-expected ground assault.

Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, calling it a “special military operation” to defend Russia from alleged “neo-Nazis” in Ukraine.

Kyiv and its allies say the invasion was an unprovoked attack on a sovereign nation.

Thousands have been killed, and millions forced to flee as a result of the fighting.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies