Ukraine's military reported intense fighting with Russian forces on Saturday, while the country's nuclear energy agency said it placed the last operating reactor at Europe's largest nuclear power plant into "cold shutdown" for safety reasons as Russia's conflict against Ukraine enters its sixteenth month.
Russian forces attacked Ukraine overnight with missiles and drones, resulting in casualties and damage to a military airfield. On Saturday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrived in Kyiv for an unannounced visit, his second since Russia's invasion in February last year. Chrystia Freeland, the Deputy Prime Minister, accompanied him.
On Saturday, Ukraine's General Staff reported that "heavy battles" were ongoing in the country's industrial east, citing 34 confrontations over the previous day. It stated that Russian forces were "defending themselves" and launching air and artillery assaults in the southern Ukrainian regions of Kherson and Zaporizhia.
The day before, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that Ukrainian forces had launched a long-anticipated counteroffensive and suffered "significant" losses.
At the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant, Europe's largest, occupied by Russian forces, five of six reactors were already in a cold shutdown.
Energoatom, the Ukrainian nuclear agency, issued a statement late Friday stating that there was "no direct threat" to the Zaporizhzhia plant as a result of the breach of the Kakhovka dam further down the Dnieper River, which has forced thousands of people to flee flooding and sharply decreased water levels in a reservoir used to cool the facility.
Energoatom stated that it shut down the final reactor because of this and shelling near the site that damaged power lines connecting the facility to Ukraine's power grid.
With the cessation of all nuclear reactions, temperatures and pressures within reactors progressively decrease, reducing the intensity of water cooling required for radioactive fuel. This is the safest mode of operation a nuclear power facility can operate in. Energoatom employees continue to operate at the power plant, which remains under Russian control.
Since September of last year, the site's electricity units have been inoperable. In the following days, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency is scheduled to visit Ukraine.
Also, on Saturday morning, Ukrainian authorities reported that at least four civilians were killed across the country due to Iranian-made Shahed drones, missiles, artillery, and mortar attacks launched by Russian forces.
Overnight, the State Emergency Service of Ukraine reported that three people were slain and over two dozen were injured in an attack on the Black Sea port of Odesa. Natalia Humeniuk, a spokesperson for Ukraine's southern operational command, reported that two children and a pregnant mother were injured.
The governor of the Kharkiv region, Oleh Syniehubov, reported on Saturday that a 29-year-old man was slain when more than ten drones targeted the region. He added that at least three additional civilians had been injured.
Dmytro Lunin, the local governor, reported that a Russian drone and missile attack caused damage to a military airfield in the western region of Poltava overnight. Lunin stated nobody was injured. As of Saturday morning, neither the Ukrainian army nor government officials had made any additional statements regarding the extent of the damage.
During the night, the Ukrainian air force shot down 20 out of 35 Shahed drones and two out of eight missiles "of various types" launched by Russian forces, according to the Ukrainian air force.
The violence and civilian casualties received renewed attention as authorities in southern Ukraine reported that water levels in a vast area beneath the breached dam were falling.
As a result of the breach of the Kakhovka dam, nearly one-third of protected natural areas in the Kherson region could be destroyed by inundation, the Ukrainian minister of the environment warned on Saturday.
Ruslan Strilets stated in a Facebook post that the collapse of the dam left one national park completely submerged, drained rivers and lakes in other protected areas, and could lead to groundwater rising in portions of the Dnieper delta occupied by Moscow, posing the risk of further inundation.
The average water level in the city of Kherson, whose outskirts were among the flood-affected areas, decreased by 31 centimeters (12 inches) overnight, but remained over 4.5 meters (15 feet) above normal, regional governor Oleksandr Prokudin reported on Saturday.
Prokudin cautioned that meteorologists predicted significant precipitation in the area over the weekend, which would complicate rescue efforts.
Martin Griffiths, the head of humanitarian aid at the United Nations, stated in an interview with the Associated Press on Friday that 700,000 people were in "extraordinary" need of drinkable water.
In additional developments:
On Saturday, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz stated that he wishes to continue speaking with Vladimir Putin - whose order for Russia's invasion of Ukraine has been criticized by numerous Western leaders - and intends to do so "soon." Scholz has had multiple phone conversations with Putin since the invasion.
According to the chancellor, the premise for a "fair peace" between Russia and Ukraine is the withdrawal of Russian troops. "This must be comprehended," he said.