(NewsNation) — Russia claims it has shot down a drone and it is reporting having encountered multiple drone attacks Saturday morning in the annexed region of Crimea near the headquarters for the Russian naval fleet in the Black Sea.
The incidents underscored Russian forces’ vulnerability in Crimea. A drone attack on Russia’s Black Sea naval headquarters on July 31 injured five people and forced the cancellation of observances of Russia’s Navy Day. This week, a Russian ammunition depot in Crimea was hit by an explosion. Last week, nine Russian warplanes were reported destroyed at an airbase on Crimea.
Ukrainian authorities have stopped short of publicly claiming responsibility. But President Volodymyr Zelenskyy alluded to Ukrainian attacks behind enemy lines after the blasts in Crimea.
The drone attacks come as Russian and Ukrainian leaders continue to feud over the safety of a Russian-occupied nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhia, where leaders from both sides are warning catastrophe could occur if the other side doesn’t back down.
Ukrainian officials are accusing Russia of holding the power plant hostage, and Russian officials are claiming the United States and Ukraine are planning a false flag attack on the plant.
“If Russian blackmail with radiation continues, this summer may go down in the history of various European countries as one of the most tragic of all time,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said.
Zelenskyy and Western leaders fear if the plant is attacked, a nuclear disaster larger than the Chernobyl meltdown could be in play.
“The area needs to be de-militarized,” said United Nations Secretary General António Guterres.
Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of the presidential office, said at the same briefing that Russian shelling had destroyed “more than 3,700 infrastructure objects” in the vicinity of the plant, including heating, electricity, gas and water supply facilities.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin said Russian President Vladimir Putin told French counterpart Emmanuel Macron in their first phone conversation since May 28 that Ukrainian shelling around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant “raised the threat of a large-scale catastrophe that could lead to radioactive contamination of large territories.”
The Zaporizhzhia nuclear facility in Ukraine’s south has been controlled by Russian forces since shortly after the invasion began Feb. 24.
Ukraine has accused Russia of storing troops and weapons at the plant and using its grounds to launch strikes against Ukrainian-controlled territory. Ukrainian officials and military analysts say Moscow’s forces have cynically employed the plant as a shield, knowing that the Ukrainians would be hesitant to fire back.
Russia continued military strikes in northern and southern Ukraine.
Meanwhile, fighting in southern Ukrainian areas just north of Crimea has stepped up in recent weeks as Ukrainian forces try to drive Russian forces out of cities they have occupied since early in the six-month-old war.
A Russian missile attack wounded 12 people, including three children, and damaged houses and an apartment block Saturday in the town of Voznesensk in the Mykolaiv region, the Ukrainian prosecutor’s office said. Two of the children were in serious condition and the governor said one had lost an eye.
A Ukrainian airstrike, meanwhile, hit targets in Melitopol, the largest Russian-controlled city in the Zaporizhzhia region, 65 miles north of Crimea, according to Ukrainian and Russia-installed local officials.
The Ukrainian military on Saturday said it had destroyed a prized Russian radar system and other equipment stationed in occupied areas in the southern Zaporizhzhia region. It was not clear if this was the strike on Melitopol.
“Tonight, there were powerful explosions in Melitopol, which the whole city heard,” the Ukrainian mayor of Melitopol, Ivan Ferodov, said. “According to preliminary data, (it was) a precise hit on one of the Russian military bases, which the Russian fascists are trying to restore for the umpteenth time in the airfield area.”
In the east, Ukraine’s military General Staff said Saturday that intensified combat took place around Bakhmut, a small city whose capture would enable Russia to threaten the two largest remaining Ukrainian-held cities in the eastern Donbas region.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.