(Bloomberg) -- Russia’s military intensified an assault on the southeastern Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia, killing at least 12 people over two days as Ukrainian forces advanced further in the country’s northeast. 

Zaporizhzhia, a regional center with a pre-war population of more than 700,000, was targeted by Iranian-made Shahed-136 drones for the first time overnight, the regional military administration said on its Telegram channel on Friday. Russia also fired nine S-300 missiles, hitting residential buildings, shops, cars and medical institutions, it said. 

Those attacks follow a Russian missile strike that killed at least 26 people near the city on Sept. 30, Ukrainian authorities said. They portrayed the attack as retaliation for Ukraine’s sweeping counteroffensive in the Kharkiv and Donetsk regions in the country’s northeast and east.  

The Zaporizhzhia region, whose occupied nuclear power plant is located more than 100 kilometers (62 miles) southwest of the city, was among those annexed by Russia, though its forces occupy only a part of it. The United Nations has condemned the annexations as illegal. 

“The day will surely come when we will report on successes in the Zaporizhzhia region,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in an address late Thursday, in which he also predicted the “liberation of Crimea,” the peninsula south of Zaporizhzhia annexed by Russia in 2014.

Igor Girkin, a former Russian intelligence colonel who became a commander of the Moscow-backed separatist forces in the eastern Donbas region in 2014, predicted that Ukraine will soon launch a large-scale counteroffensive in the southern region.

“Ukraine has amassed weapons in Zaporizhzhia -- we expect the main strike here,” Girkin said in a video blog on his Telegram channel. “If the enemy starts a powerful, full-scale offensive like in Kharkiv, it’s hard to say whether our forces will be able to repel it.”

Such an advance could put Ukrainian forces in position to move toward the occupied city of Melitopol and the port of Mariupol -- potentially able to cut off Russian troops stationed in the Kherson region from Crimea, Girkin said.

Using the pseudonym Strelkov, Girkin is being tried in absentia for his alleged role in the July 2014 shooting down of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17. He has denied the accusation. His Telegram channel has 712,000 subscribers and is frequently cited by Western military analysts. 

Ukraine pressed forward with its counteroffensive in Kharkiv, threatening Russian positions in the western Luhansk region, which has been almost completely occupied by the Russian military,  the US-based Institute for the Study of War said Friday.

Russia’s use of the wing-shaped Shahed drones in Zaporizhzhia is not comparable to Ukraine’s advantage with the HIMARS multiple rocket launch rocket systems and “unlikely to affect the course of the war significantly,” IWS said.

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