IAEA inspectors board a flight to Ukraine at Vienna International Airport in Vienna, Austria, on Monday. Once there, they will inspect the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in the southeastern part of the country, which has been subject to fighting damage in recent weeks. Photo by Dean Calma/IAEA/EPA-EFE

IAEA inspectors board a flight to Ukraine at Vienna International Airport in Vienna, Austria, on Monday. Once there, they will inspect the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in the southeastern part of the country, which has been subject to fighting damage in recent weeks. Photo by Dean Calma/IAEA/EPA-EFE

Aug. 29 (UPI) — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had long vowed that Kyiv would mount a counteroffensive in the south to retake land captured by Russia during the first phase of its invasion that started in late February.

“Today, there were powerful artillery attacks on enemy positions throughout the territory of the occupied Kherson region,” local deputy and adviser to the regional Gov. Sergey Khlan said, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

“This is the announcement of what we have been waiting for since spring: it is the beginning of the end of the occupation of the Kherson region.”

The Center for Strategic Communication and Information Security under the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy of Ukraine announced initial success on Monday.

“The Armed Forces of Ukraine have breached the occupiers’ first line of defense near Kherson,” the center said on Twitter. “They believe that Ukraine has a real chance to get back its occupied territories, especially considering the very successful use of Western weapons by the Ukrainian army.”

Kyiv had destroyed a key bridge near Kherson that was critical for resupplying the Russian military in the region but Moscow still had use of a second crossing. The Kherson region is vital to Russia because it lies just north of Crimea, the peninsula Russia forcibly annexed in 2014.

The counteroffensive comes after concerns increased its largest nuclear plant. Hours before United Nations inspectors were scheduled to arrive and examine Ukraine’s largest nuclear power plant on Monday, Russian forces shelled areas nearby and kept up concern for the facility’s safety.

Russian troops have been launching attacks from the area near the Zaporizhzhia plant for weeks — and Ukrainian officials believe that’s because they know opposing forces won’t return fire out of concern for the plant.

Russian forces fired more artillery on Monday from near the plant across a river and into the cities of Enerhodar, Nikopol and Marganets, Ukrainian officials said.

The Zaporizhzhia plant is located in southeastern Ukraine.

Regional Gov. Oleksandr Starukh said the shelling hit residential buildings in the main city of Zaporizhzhia and the town of Orikhiv, farther east. Forces loyal to Moscow hit several other cities opposite the Dnipro River across from the plant.

“Russian terrorists shelled Enerhodar,” Andriy Yermak, head of the Ukrainian President’s Office, said according to CNN.

“They provoke and try to blackmail the world. They shell Nikopol, Marganets and imitate the ‘response’ at Enerhodar, although they are the one firing. Nuclear blackmail should not go unanswered.”

The attacks came on the same day inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency were set to visit the plant. The IAEA said last week that it would go to the facility following many days of worry that the fighting around the plant could lead to a nuclear catastrophe. The plant became disconnected from the main power grid last week due to the fighting. It was reconnected the following day, but the ordeal underscored just how delicate the situation is.

“The day has come,” IAEA head Rafael Grossi tweeted. “We must protect the safety and security of Ukraine’s and Europe’s biggest nuclear facility.”

Ukrainian officials said Sunday that forces had destroyed a Russian operational center in Svatove in the Luhansk province, which is under Russian control. Regional Gov. Serhiy Haidai said that equipment, ammunition and Russian troops were on-site at the time.

Kyiv also said that Ukrainian forces hit a Russian-controlled aircraft plant in Sokol. Russia, meanwhile, said it struck a helicopter repair plant.

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