By SABRA AYRES
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Pro-Kremlin officials on Sunday blamed Ukraine for a rocket attack that struck the mayor’s office in Donetsk, a city controlled by the separatists, while Ukrainian officials said Russian rocket strikes hit a town across from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, among other targets.
The attacks came as Russia’s war in Ukraine nears the eight-month mark. Kyiv also reported holding the line in continued fierce fighting around Bakhmut, where Russian forces have claimed some gains amid a seven-week Ukrainian counteroffensive that has led Russian troops to retreat from some areas around it.
The municipal mayor’s building in Donetsk was seriously damaged by the rocket attack. Plumes of smoke swirled around the building, which had rows of blown-out windows and a partially collapsed ceiling. Cars nearby were burned out. There were no immediate reports of casualties. Kyiv didn’t immediately claim responsibility or comment on the attack.
Kremlin-backed separatist authorities have accused Ukraine of numerous strikes on infrastructure and residential targets in the occupied regions. They have said Kyiv often uses U.S.-supplied long-range HIMARS rockets, but have not provided corroborating information.
Last week, the Kremlin launched what is believed to be its largest coordinated air and missile raids yet on Ukraine’s infrastructure. The wide-ranging retaliatory attacks included the use of self-destructing explosive drones from Iran, and killed dozens of people.
Ukraine’s presidential office said Sunday that Moscow was shelling towns and villages along the front line in the east, and that “active hostilities” continued in the southern Kherson region.
Kyiv reported at least six people wounded in the latest attack on Nikopol, across from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, Europe’s largest. The strikes damaged power lines, gas pipelines, and a raft of civilian businesses and residential buildings, they said.
Russia and Ukraine have repeatedly accused each other of firing at and around the plant, which is run by its pre-occupation Ukrainian staff under Russian oversight.
The region of Zaporizhzhia is one of four that Moscow illegally annexed last month, despite the fact that some 20% of Zaporizhzhia remains under Ukrainian military control.
In western Russia, along the border with Ukraine, Russian officials said their air defenses shot down “a minimum” of 16 Ukrainian missiles in the Belgorod region, Russia’s Ria Novosti reported. The regional governor, Vyacheslav Gladkov, said four people were wounded.
Russian authorities in border regions have repeatedly accused Kyiv of firing at their territory, and claimed that civilians were being wounded. Ukraine hasn’t claimed responsibility for the alleged atacks or commented.
Russia has long used Belgorod as a staging ground for shelling and missile attacks on Ukrainian territory.
Meanwhile, Russia opened an investigation into a shooting in the Belgorod region Saturday in which two men from a former Soviet republic who were training at a Russian military firing range killed 11 and wounded 15 during target practice, before being slain themselves. The Russian Defense Ministry called the incident a terrorist attack.
— France, seeking to puncture perceptions that it has lagged in supporting Ukraine, confirmed it’s pledging air-defense missiles and stepped-up military training to Ukraine. Up to 2,000 Ukrainian soldiers will be embedded with military units in France, rotating through for several weeks of combat training, specialized training in logistics and other needs, and training on equipment supplied by France, the French defense minister, Sébastien Lecornu, said in an interview published in Le Parisien.
— The Institute for the Study of War, a think tank in Washington, accused Moscow late Saturday of conducting “massive, forced deportations of Ukrainians,” which it said likely amount to ethnic cleansing.
It referenced statements made this week by Russian authorities that claimed that “several thousand” children from a southern region occupied by Moscow had been placed in rest homes and children’s camps in Russia amid the Ukrainian counteroffensive. The original remarks by Russia’s deputy prime minister, Marat Khusnullin, were reported by RIA Novosti on Friday.
Russian authorities have previously admitted to placing children from Russian-held areas of Ukraine, who they said were orphans, for adoption with Russian families, in a potential breach of an international treaty on genocide prevention.
— The Ukrainian military accused pro-Kremlin fighters of evicting civilians in occupied territories to house officers in their homes, an act it described as a violation of international humanitarian law. It said the evictions were happening in Rubizhne, in the eastern Luhansk region. It didn’t provide evidence for its claim.
— A Russian commander wanted for his role in the downing of a Malaysian airliner over eastern Ukraine in 2014 has been deployed to the front, according to social media posts by pro-Kremlin commentators. Posts by Maksim Fomin and others said Igor Girkin, also known as Strelkov, has been given responsibility for an unspecified Russian front-line unit.
Girkin has been on an international wanted list over his alleged involvement in the downing of Kuala Lumpur-bound flight MH17, which killed 298 people. He remains the most high-profile suspect in a related murder trial in a Dutch court, with a verdict expected Nov. 17.
Recently, Girkin’s social media posts have lashed out at Moscow’s battlefield failures. Ukraine’s defense intelligence agency said Sunday it would offer a $100,000 reward to anyone who delivers him to Ukrainian forces.
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