Shelling Near Ukraine Nuke Plant Again

NIKOPOL, Ukraine (AP) -- Only hours after the latest international pleas to spare the area around Ukraine's main nuclear plant from attacks, there were new claims of Russian shelling close to the Zaporizhzhya facilities early Monday.

Nikopol, on the opposite bank of the Dnieper River and about 10 kilometers (6 miles) downstream from the plant, came under fire three times during the night from rockets and mortars, hitting houses, a kindergarten, the bus station and stores, regional governor Valentyn Reznichenko said. Ukraine media reported that four people were wounded.

Reports of sustained shelling around Europe's largest nuclear power plant further highlighted the dangers of a war that will hit the half-year mark on Wednesday.

After U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres again urged caution during a visit to Ukraine last week, U.S. President Joe Biden further discussed the issue with the leaders of France, Germany and Britain on Sunday.

The four leaders stressed the need to avoid military operations in the region to prevent the possibility of a potentially devastating nuclear accident and called for the U.N.'s atomic energy agency to be allowed to visit the facilities as soon as possible.

Yet, nothing seemed certain in a war that has spread fear and unease far beyond the frontlines in eastern and southern Ukraine and also into the Russia-annexed Crimea peninsula and as far as Moscow, where on Saturday night a car blast killed the daughter of an influential Russian political theorist often referred to as "Putin's brain."

On Monday Russian authorities were looking for further clues who could be behind the incident, after authorities said preliminary information indicated 29-year-old TV commentator Daria Dugina was killed by an explosive planted in the SUV she was driving.

A former Russian opposition lawmaker, Ilya Ponomarev, said an unknown Russian group, the National Republican Army, claimed responsibility for the bombing. The AP could not verify the existence of the group. Ponomarev, who left Russia after voting against its annexation of Crimea in 2014, made the statement to Ukrainian TV.

Ukraine officials have denied involvement.

In Crimea, anxiety has spread further following a spate of fires and explosions at Russian facilities over the past two weeks. The governor of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhaev, ordered that signs showing the location of bomb shelters be placed in the city that had long seemed untouchable.

Monday's statement follows a series of drone incursions into the Crimean city that is home to Russia's Black Sea Fleet. A drone exploded at the fleet's headquarters on July 31 and another was shot down over the HQ last week. Authorities also say air-defense systems have shot down other drones. Razvozhaev said on Telegram that the city is well protected but "it is better to know where the shelters are."

Russian President Vladimir Putin did not mention Russia's military operation in Ukraine during a speech marking National Flag Day on Monday, but echoed some of the justifications cited for sending in troops.

"We are firm in pursuing in the international arena only those policies that meet the fundamental interests of the motherland," Putin said. He maintains Russia sent troops into Ukraine as effectively a protective measure against the encroaching West.

"The desire to live according to one's will, to choose one's own path and follow it, has become part of the genetic code of our people," he said.