Kiev’s counter-offensive in southern Ukraine

A counter-offensive has been launched in southern Ukraine by Kiev forces, who have reported isolated successes, while the Russian army has claimed to have inflicted “heavy losses” on them.

At the same time, a mission from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was expected to secure the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe, which has been occupied by the Russians since the beginning of March and is at the center of all tensions.

Kiev’s counter-attack is mainly aimed at retaking Kherson, a city of 280,000 inhabitants – before the conflict – which fell into Russian hands at the start of the war.

“The Ukrainian armed forces have launched their offensive in several areas in the south. We ask the residents of Kherson to follow the safety instructions: stay near shelters and away from Russian positions,” wrote the head of the regional administration, Yaroslav Yanuchevytch, on Telegram.

“Today there were powerful artillery attacks on enemy positions. […] on the entire territory of the occupied Kherson region. This is the announcement of what we have been waiting for since the spring: it is the beginning of the end of the occupation,” said Sergei Khlan, a local deputy, on Ukrainian television.

He assured that the Ukrainian military had “the advantage” on the southern front after repeated strikes in recent weeks on bridges and a dam on the Dnieper, the great river that runs through this part of Ukraine, intended to disrupt the logistics of Russian troops.

The Ukrainian military grouping “Kakhovka” said it was observing the retreat of a unit of pro-Russian separatist fighters from its positions in the region.

The offensive has “failed”, according to Moscow

Russia, for its part, claimed to have repelled Ukrainian “offensive attempts” in the regions of Kherson and Mykolayev, also in southern Ukraine.

“During the day […]Ukrainian troops made an offensive attempt in three directions, in the Mykolayev and Kherson regions,” the Russian Defense Ministry said, adding that it “failed miserably” and the Ukrainians “suffered heavy losses.”

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The spokeswoman for the Ukrainian army’s “Southern” command, Natalia Goumeniouk, had earlier said that Kiev’s forces were attacking “in many directions” on this front in order to drive the Russians back to the left bank of the Dnieper.

On Monday night, this command clarified on Facebook that the situation remained “tense” in its area of action, stressing that “the enemy attacked our positions five times, but all were a failure.”

He also mentioned a “massive daytime bombardment” of Mikolayv by the Russians with sixteen S-300 anti-aircraft missiles that caused “significant” damage, including to residential buildings and transport infrastructure. Two civilians were killed and 24 injured, according to this source.

Two missiles fell in the evening in the Bashtansky area, damaging houses but no casualties have been reported at this stage, it added.

All this information was unverifiable from independent sources.

“Ukraine is taking back what is hers and will take back everything in the end – the regions of Kharkiv, Lugansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhia, Kherson, Crimea, the waters of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov […] “, hammered in his daily evening message Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

The Russian bombing has not stopped on the front line that stretches from north to south.

The local authorities mentioned strikes in the regions of Kharkiv (north-east), Dnipropetrovsk (center), where they killed one person, and Mykolaïv.

“It was shaking and everyone ran out,” Olga, a 40-year-old resident of Mykolayev told AFP after a missile and rocket fell in her neighborhood.

“It happened in a second and in a second it was black in the house,” testified one of his neighbors, Oleksandre Choula, 66, whose wife had just been killed.

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An IAEA mission to Ukraine

The IAEA has announced that it is sending a mission, led by its Director General Rafael Grossi, to the Zaporizhia power plant in southern Ukraine.

It is to visit these installations “later this week”.

Mr. Grossi had been asking for several months to be able to go there, warning of the “real risk of a nuclear catastrophe” after a series of bombings for which the two belligerents blame each other.

In a statement Monday, the G7 countries, “deeply concerned” about the risk of a nuclear accident in Zaporijjia, called for full freedom of movement for international experts.

“Russia must ensure safe and unfettered access” to the IAEA team, a U.S. official demanded, for whom the “safest” option would be a “controlled” shutdown of the reactors.

Accused by Kiev of having positioned artillery pieces on the site of the plant to pound the positions of its army, Russia has the same day considered “necessary” this inspection, through the voice of the Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

The Ukrainian operator Energoatom nevertheless claimed that the Russian soldiers were “putting pressure on the personnel of the power plant to prevent them from revealing evidence of the crimes of the occupier”.

“Ukrainian sovereignty over this power plant must not be challenged,” for his part, French President Emmanuel Macron stressed.

The mayor’s office in Zaporizhia said that since August 23, iodine tablets have been distributed to the population within a 50 km radius of the plant, to be taken in case of a radiation alert.

On Monday, the city’s residents were preparing for the worst.

“You know, we experienced the Chernobyl accident, the threat was already very great, but we survived, thank God. Today, the threat is total, 100%,” commented Kateryna, a pensioner.