Drones, blasts hit Russian-held parts of Ukraine showing Kyiv's battlefield reach
Latest incidents follow huge blasts at Russian air base in Crimea last week
Russia reported fresh Ukrainian drone attacks on Friday evening, a day after explosions erupted near military bases in Russian-held areas of Ukraine and Russia itself, apparent displays of Kyiv's growing ability to pummel Moscow's assets far from the front lines.
The latest attacks followed huge blasts last week at an air base in Russian-annexed Crimea. In a new assessment, a Western official said those blasts had rendered half of Russia's Black Sea naval aviation force useless in a stroke.
Russia's RIA and Tass news agencies, citing a local official in Crimea, said it appeared Russian anti-aircraft forces had been in action near the western Crimean port of Yevpatoriya on Friday night. Video posted by a Russian website showed what appeared to be a ground-to-air missile hitting a target. Reuters was unable immediately to confirm the video's veracity.
Tass cited a local official as saying Russian anti-aircraft forces knocked down six Ukrainian drones sent to attack the town of Nova Kakhovka, east of the city of Kherson. Ukraine says retaking Kherson is one of its main priorities.
Further south, an official in Crimea said defences there had downed an unspecified number of drones over Sevastopol, Crimea's largest city.
"The Ukrainian armed forces treated the Russians to a magical evening," said Sergiy Khlan, a member of Kherson's regional council disbanded by Russian occupation forces.
The night before, multiple explosions were reported in Crimea — which Moscow seized and annexed in 2014 — including near Sevastopol, where Russia's Black Sea Fleet has its headquarters, as well as at Kerch near a huge bridge to Russia.
Inside Russia, two villages were evacuated after explosions at an ammunition dump in Belgorod province, more than 100 kilometres from territory controlled by Ukrainian forces.
At least five people were killed and 10 others wounded by the Russian shelling of towns and villages in Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region, according to regional authorities. Russian shelling of the city of Kharkiv also killed at least one civilian early Friday. Russian missiles again struck port facilities and a university building in the southern port city of Mykolaiv.
Kyiv's military actions getting noticed
Kyiv has been withholding official comment on incidents in Crimea or inside Russia while hinting that it is behind them using long-range weapons or sabotage.
A Western official indicated on Friday that at least some of the incidents were Ukrainian attacks, saying Kyiv was consistently achieving "kinetic effects" deep behind Russia's lines.
Huge explosions on Aug. 9 at Russia's Saky air base on the Crimean coast had put more than half of the Black Sea Fleet's combat jets out of use, the official said, in what would be one of the most costly attacks of the war.
Russia has denied aircraft were damaged in what it called an accident, although satellite pictures showed at least eight warplanes completely burned out and several huge impact craters. Earlier this week, Moscow fired the head of the Black Sea Fleet.
Ukraine hopes its apparent new-found ability to hit Russian targets behind the front line can turn the tide in the conflict, disrupting supply lines Moscow needs to support its occupation.
Since last month, Ukraine has been fielding advanced rockets supplied by the West to strike behind Russian lines. Some explosions reported in Crimea and Belgorod are beyond the range of ammunition Western countries have acknowledged sending so far.
A senior Ukrainian official said around half of the incidents in Crimea were Ukrainian attacks of some kind, and half were accidents caused by Russia's poor operations. He emphasized that attacks were carried out by saboteurs rather than long-range weapons, though he would not say whether Kyiv now had ATACMS, a longer range version of the U.S. HIMARS rockets it began using in June.
The official, who declined to be named, said Ukraine had hoped its strikes would have a bigger impact in reducing Russian artillery power but Moscow was adapting.
Fears Moscow has plans for nuclear plant
Ukraine also issued dire warnings about a front line nuclear power station, the Zaporizhzhia complex, where it said it believed Moscow was planning a "large-scale provocation" as justification to decouple the plant from the Ukrainian power grid and connect it to Russia's.
"If the Russian blackmail with radiation continues, this summer may go down in the history of various European nations as one of the most tragic of all time. Because no nuclear power station anywhere in the world has a procedure for a terrorist state turning a nuclear power plant into a target," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in an address Friday evening.
Continuing the mutual blame game, Russian President Vladimir Putin accused Ukraine of shelling the complex, risking a nuclear catastrophe.
Ukraine's nuclear power operator said on Friday it suspected Moscow was planning to switch over the Zaporizhzhia plant to Russia's grid, a complex operation that Kyiv says could cause a disaster.
The power station is held by Russian troops on the bank of a reservoir; Ukrainian forces control the opposite bank.
Macron, Putin discuss nuclear plant
Moscow has rejected international calls to demilitarize the plant, and Putin on Friday renewed his accusation that Kyiv was shelling it in a phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron, according to the Kremlin's readout of the call.
Macron's office said Putin agreed to a mission by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to Zaporizhzhia.
Hours after talking with Putin, Macron on Friday accused the Russian leader of launching a "brutal attack" on Ukraine in an imperialist, revanchist violation of international law.
Macron, who tried tirelessly but unsuccessfully to prevent the invasion and has long vaunted the importance of dialogue with Putin, has grown increasingly critical of the Russian president as the war goes on.
He warned French citizens that the resulting energy and economic crisis confronting Europe isn't over, calling it "the price of our freedom and our values."
With files from The Associated Press