By Ken Bredemeier
Russian missiles hit the strategic southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv on Sunday, even as Moscow’s forces pounded Ukraine’s eastern region with new attacks.
Mykolaiv Mayor Oleksandr Senkevych said that the Russian missiles struck an industrial and infrastructure facility in the city, a key shipbuilding center. There was no immediate information about casualties.
The Russian military says it is trying to cut off Ukraine’s entire Black Sea coast all the way to the Romanian border. Early in the five-month war, Ukrainian forces fought off Russian attempts to capture Mykolaiv, which sits near the Black Sea Coast between Russia-occupied Crimea and the main Ukrainian port of Odesa.
Since then, Russia has bombarded both Mykolaiv and Odesa with regular missile strikes.
The British Defense Ministry said Sunday that Russia is moving personnel and equipment among Kherson, Mariupol and Zaporizhzhia and increasing security measures around Melitopol.
“Given the pressures on Russian manpower, the reinforcement of the south whilst the fight for the [eastern] Donbas [region] continues indicates the seriousness with which Russian commanders view the threat,” the British assessment said.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, during a visit to the front lines on Saturday, ordered troops “to further intensify the actions of units in all operational areas.”
Vadym Skibitskyi, a spokesman for Ukrainian military intelligence, said Russia is preparing for the next stage of its offensive. As Western-supplied long-range arms have begun to help Ukraine on the battlefield, he said Russia has pounded cities in strikes that Kyiv says have killed at least 40 people in recent days.
“It is not only missile strikes from the air and sea,” Skibitskyi said. “We can see shelling along the entire line of contact, along the entire front line. There is an active use of tactical aviation and attack helicopters.
“Clearly preparations are now under way for the next stage of the offensive,” he said.
Ukraine said Russia appeared to be regrouping units for an attack on Sloviansk, a symbolically important, Ukrainian-held city in the eastern region of Donetsk.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in his daily address Saturday, urged Ukrainians to develop “a kind of emotional sovereignty” over the disinformation and propaganda that Russia and others have distributed in various media about Ukraine.
Zelenskyy said, “We do not depend on what the enemy constantly launches against you and me.”
He said the Ukrainian people must “have the power to consciously perceive any information, any messages, no matter who they come from … to see who needs them and for what.”
“Sometimes media weapons can do more than conventional weapons,” Zelenskyy said. “Ukrainian unity cannot be broken by lies or intimidation, fake information or conspiracy theories.”
Russian and Ukrainian forces exchanged artillery fire in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region Saturday. Earlier, Russian cruise missiles exploded across several Ukrainian cities and towns, damaging residential buildings and other structures.
Workers cleaned the area within the central city of Dnipro, where officials reported three people were killed and 15 others were wounded in a missile strike, said Governor Valentyn Reznychenko on Telegram. Ukraine’s air force said it intercepted four additional missiles fired at the city.
In the northeast region around Ukraine’s second largest city of Kharkiv, Governor Oleg Synegubov said an overnight Russian missile attack killed three people in the town of Chuguiv.
In the central Ukrainian city of Vinnytsia, officials said the death toll rose to 24 from last week’s Russian strikes after a woman died of her injuries in a hospital Saturday. Ukraine said three children were among the dead.
In other developments, Ukraine’s atomic energy agency accused Russia of using Europe’s largest nuclear power plant to store weapons and shell the surrounding regions of Nikopol and Dnipro that were hit Saturday.
Petro Kotin, president of Ukrainian nuclear agency Energoatom, called the situation at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant “extremely tense” with up to 500 Russian soldiers controlling the facility.
The plant in southeast Ukraine has been under Russian control since the early weeks of Moscow’s invasion, although it is still operated by Ukrainian staff.
Despite the fighting, both sides have indicated signs of progress toward an agreement to end a blockade of Ukrainian grain.
Turkey, which has been mediating the efforts, says a deal could be signed this week.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Lt. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said a final document had been prepared and was set to be completed “in the nearest time,” according to the Associated Press.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said last week there is “broad agreement” on a deal between Russia and Ukraine, with Turkey and the United Nations, to export millions of tons of Ukrainian grain stuck in silos since Russia’s invasion February 24.
More than 20 million tons of grain are being stored in silos in Odesa, but dozens of ships have been stranded because of Russia’s blockade. Turkey said it has 20 merchant ships waiting in the region that could be quickly loaded and dispatched to world markets.