11 July 2024

NIKOPOL, Ukraine (AP) — Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has already killed some 9,000 Ukrainian soldiers since it began nearly six months ago, a general said, and the fighting Monday showed no signs that the war is abating.

At a veteran’s event, Ukraine’s military chief, Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyi, said many of Ukraine’s children need to be taken care of because “their father went to the front line and, perhaps, is one of those almost 9,000 heroes who died.”

In Nikopol, across the river from Ukraine’s main nuclear power plant, Russian shelling wounded four people Monday, an official said. The city on the Dnieper River has faced relentless pounding since July 12 that has damaged 850 buildings and sent about half its population of 100,000 fleeing.

“I feel hate towards Russians,” said 74-year-old Liudmyla Shyshkina, standing on the edge of her destroyed fourth-floor apartment in Nikopol that no longer has walls. She is still injured from the Aug. 10 blast that killed her 81-year-old husband, Anatoliy.

“The Second World War didn’t take away my father, but the Russian war did,” noted Pavlo Shyshkin, his son.

The U.N. says 5,587 civilians have been killed and 7,890 wounded in the Russian invasion of Ukraine that began on Feb. 24, although the estimate is likely an undercount. The U.N. children’s agency said Monday that at least 972 Ukrainian children have been killed or injured since Russia invaded. UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell said these are U.N.-verified figures but “we believe the number to be much higher.”

U.S. President Joe Biden and the leaders of Britain, France and Germany pleaded Sunday for Russia to end military operations so close to the Zaporizhzhya nuclear plant — Europe’s largest — but Nikopol came under fire three times overnight from rockets and mortar shells. Houses, a kindergarten, a bus station and stores were hit, authorities said.

There are widespread fears that continued shelling and fighting in the area could lead to a nuclear catastrophe. Russia has asked for an urgent meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday to discuss the situation — a move “the audacity” of which Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy decried in his evening video address.

“The total number of different Russian cruise missiles that Russia used against us is approaching 3,500. It is simply impossible to count the strikes of Russian artillery; there are so many of them, and they are so intense,” Zelensky said Monday.

Western nations had already scheduled a council meeting on Wednesday — the six-month anniversary of the Russian invasion — on its impact on Ukraine.

Vladimir Rogov, an official with the Russia-installed administration of the occupied Zaporizhzhia region, claimed that because of shelling from Ukraine, staffing at the nuclear plant had been cut sharply. Ukrainians say Russia is storing weapons at the plant and has blocked off areas to Ukrainian nuclear workers.

Monday’s announcement of the scope of Ukraine’s military dead stands in sharp contrast to Russia’s military, which last gave an update on March 25 when it said 1,351 Russian troops were killed during the first month of fighting. U.S. military officials estimated two weeks ago that Russia has lost between 70,000 to 80,000 soldiers, both killed and wounded in action.

On Monday though, Moscow turned its attention to one specific civilian death.

Russia blamed Ukrainian spy agencies for the weekend car bombing on the outskirts of Moscow that killed the daughter of a far-right Russian nationalist who ardently supports the invasion of Ukraine.

Russia’s Federal Security Service, the main successor to the KGB, said Monday the killing was “prepared and perpetrated by the Ukrainian special services.” It charged that the bombing that killed 29-year-old TV commentator Darya Dugina, whose father, political theorist Alexander Dugin, is often referred to as “Putin’s brain,” was carried out by a Ukrainian citizen who left Russia for Estonia quickly afterward.

Ukrainian officials have vehemently denied any involvement in the car bombing. Estonian officials say Russia has not asked them to look for the alleged bomber or even spoken to them about the bombing.

On the front lines, the Ukraine military said it carried out a strike on a key bridge over the Dnieper River in the Russian-occupied Kherson region. Local Russia-installed officials said the strike killed two people Monday and wounded 16 others.

Photos on social media showed thick plumes of smoke rising over the Antonivskiy Bridge, an important supply route for the Russian military in Kherson.

On the Russian-occupied Crimean Peninsula, anxiety has been spreading following a spate of fires and explosions at Russian facilities over the past two weeks. The Russian-backed governor of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhaev, ordered that signs showing the location of bomb shelters be placed in the city, which had long seemed untouchable.

Razvozhaev said on Telegram the city is well-protected but “it is better to know where the shelters are.”

Sevastopol, the Crimean port that is the home of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, has seen a series of drone attacks. A drone exploded at the fleet’s headquarters on July 31, and another was shot down over it last week. Authorities said air-defense systems have shot down other drones as well.

On Monday evening, Sevastopol residents reported hearing loud explosions on social media. Razvozhaev said the air-defense system had shot down “an object … at high altitude.”

“Preliminary (conclusion) is that it is, again, a drone,” he wrote on Telegram.

Russian President Vladimir Putin didn’t directly mention the war during a speech Monday marking National Flag Day but echoed some of the justifications cited for the invasion.

“We are firm in pursuing in the international arena only those policies that meet the fundamental interests of the motherland,” Putin said. He maintains that Russia sent troops into Ukraine to protect its people against the encroaching West.