February 28, 2024

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has warned Ukrainians to be vigilant in the coming week as they prepare to celebrate their Independence Day, as fresh blasts hit Crimea and a missile wounded 12 civilians near a nuclear power plant.

In his nightly video address, Zelenskiy on Saturday said Ukrainians must not allow Moscow to “spread despondency and fear” among them as they mark the 31st anniversary of independence from Soviet rule.

“We must all be aware that this week Russia could try to do something particularly ugly, something particularly vicious,” Zelenskiy said ahead of the anniversary on 24 August, which also marks six months since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine began.

Tension is also running high in Ukraine’s second largest city, Kharkiv, where the curfew will be extended for the entire day on Wednesday, regional governor Oleh Synehub said on Saturday. The north-eastern city is regularly hit by Russian shelling and normally has a curfew from 10pm to 6am but extra precautions were required on independence day.

Also on Saturday, a Russian missile hit a residential area of a southern Ukrainian town not far from a nuclear power station, wounding 12 civilians, Russian and Ukrainian officials said.

That strike at the Pivdennoukrainsk nuclear station and fresh shelling near the Zaporizhzhia station, Europe’s largest such facility, prompted new fears of a nuclear accident during the war, Ukrainian officials said.

Zelenskiy in his address also referred obliquely to a series of explosions in recent days in Crimea, the Ukrainian territory seized and annexed by Russia during a 2014 incursion.

Ukraine has not claimed responsibility for the attacks, but analysts have said at least some have been made possible by new equipment used by Ukrainian forces.

“You can literally feel Crimea in the air this year, that the occupation there is only temporary and that Ukraine is coming back,” Zelenskiy said.

In the latest attack in Crimea, the Russian-appointed governor – who is not recognised by Ukraine or western governments – said a drone had struck a building near the headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet on Saturday morning.

Video shared on Twitter appeared to show Russian air defences attempting to destroy the UAV and dark plumes of smoke rising from the city.

Mikhail Razvozhayev, Sevastopol’s governor, wrote on Telegram that a drone had hit the roof of the headquarters on Saturday and said there were no casualties, reports the Russian news agency Tass.

“I am at the [Black Sea] fleet’s headquarters now. A drone hit the roof here 25 minutes ago. Unfortunately, it was not downed … There are no casualties,” he wrote.

Later on Saturday, Crimea’s governor, Sergei Aksyonov, contradicted the earlier statement by saying on Telegram that local air defences shot down the drone above the Black Sea fleet headquarters in Sevastopol.

“Air defense systems successfully hit all targets over the territory over Crimea on Saturday morning. There are no casualties or material damage,” his boss, Sergei Aksyonov, said on Telegram.

Authorities in Sevastopol reported on Saturday night that the city’s air-defence systems had been called into action again in the evening.

Ukrainian media reported explosions in nearby towns – including the resorts of Yevpatoriya, Olenivka and Zaozyornoye.

After the strike near the South Ukraine power station, Vitaliy Kim, governor of Mykolaiv region, said on Telegram that four children were among the wounded.

Private homes and a five-storey apartment block were damaged in Voznesensk, 30 km from the plant, Ukraine’s second largest.

The general prosecutor’s office in Mykolaiv region, updating an earlier toll, said 12 civilians had been wounded.

State-run Energoatom, which manages all four Ukrainian nuclear energy generators, described the attack on Voznesensk as “another act of Russian nuclear terrorism”.

“It is possible that this missile was aimed specifically at the Pivdennoukrainsk Nuclear Power Plant, which the Russian military tried to seize back at the beginning of March,” Energoatom said in a statement.

Russia did not immediately respond to the accusation. Reuters was unable to verify the situation in Voznesensk. There were no reports of any damage to the South Ukraine plant.

Meanwhile, the Albanian defence ministry said on Saturday that three people with Russian and Ukrainian passports have been arrested after trying to break into a military base and arms factory in central Albania.

The ministry said on Saturday in a statement that two of its soldiers were injured while trying to stop them.

“Three citizens with Russian and Ukrainian passports have tried to enter the factory,” the ministry said in a statement sent to media.

Albanian prime minister Edi Rama said the three individuals are “suspected of espionage”.

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