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Russian forces amass in southern Ukraine, renew concerns of 'new phase' in invasion

By Pedro Oliveira Jr.
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A picture taken during a visit to Mariupol organized by the Russian military shows Russian servicemen on guard at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station in Enerhodar, southeastern Ukraine. File Photo by Sergei Ilnitsky/EPA-EFE
A picture taken during a visit to Mariupol organized by the Russian military shows Russian servicemen on guard at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station in Enerhodar, southeastern Ukraine. File Photo by Sergei Ilnitsky/EPA-EFE

Aug. 6 (UPI) -- Russia is amassing troops in the south of Ukraine, renewing concerns Saturday that the invading forces could be preparing for a new campaign in the war.

Officials with Britain's Ministry of Defense say it's unclear if the long convoys of military personnel headed to the south of Ukraine are building a new attack or simply preparing for a counterattack.

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According to the agency, the war could be entering a "new phase," The Guardian reported.

"Russia's war on Ukraine is about to enter a new phase, with the heaviest fighting shifting to a roughly 350km [217-mile] frontline stretching southwest from near Zaporizhzhia to Kherson, paralleling the Dnieper River," the agency said in a statement.

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Ukrainian officials said the Zaporizhzhia power plant is under Russian control.

"Three strikes were recorded on the site of the plant, near one of the power blocks where the nuclear reactor is located," the state-run operator Energoatom said in a statement.

Other European leaders condemned Russia after it took control of parts of Donetsk, which includes a large nuclear power plant.

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The European Union's top diplomat, Josep Borrell, condemned the military strikes near the power plant.

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"This is a serious and irresponsible breach of nuclear safety rules and another example of Russia's disregard for international norms," he tweeted Saturday.

Borrell also demanded access to the region for an independent review by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

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Overnight shelling in Ukraine's fourth-largest city, Dnipropetrovsk, injured three people and destroyed residential buildings.

Also destroyed were a kindergarten building with a children's art center, the Kyiv Independent reported.

In other major cities, some residents said they are being pushed into forced conscription to join the fight against their own country, the newspaper said.

"I fled because it became unrealistic and dangerous to live in Donetsk," former resident Stepan, who asked for his last name to be held, told the Kyiv Independent.

He said he paid a smuggler a hefty fee to be able to flee the city, where "thousands" others were unable to leave.

"You can't go outside because of forced conscription," he added. "There is no water, no work."

Meanwhile, a military official accused pro-Russian forces of using humanitarian aid to lure people into a referendum on whether they want to join the invaders, The Guardian reported.

"Under the guise of providing food or construction materials, the occupying power and the collaborating public movement organize meetings with the population of the recently captured territories of the region," wrote Sergei Gaidai, chief of the Luhansk military administration, in a Telegram post.

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Gaidai added the Russian operatives "lure out personal data, urge people to go to the so-called referendum" while "forcing people to exchange their will for food or drinking water".

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