Amid grinding battles, car bombing near Moscow brings accusations, and denial

People wait to fill bottles with water on Sunday in Kostiantynivka, Donetsk. A homeowner with a private well allows residents to fill up at his home for two hours each day. The neighborhood hasn't had running water for months. (DAVID GOLDMAN / AP)

KYIV/MOSCOW-Nearly six months after Russia launched its special military operation in Ukraine, the conflict has turned into a grinding campaign of battles with no clear endgame in sight. Amid the daily airstrikes, a car bombing, unusual for Moscow, is likely to aggravate tensions between Russia and Ukraine.

The conflict has created the largest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II. The UN refugee agency said a third of Ukrainians have fled their homes, with more than 6.6 million displaced within the country and over 6.6 million more across the continent. Both sides have sustained losses.

As Ukraine prepared to mark its Independence Day on Wednesday, officials reported more strikes on targets in the east and south of the country.

The fighting near Zaporizhzhia and a missile strike on the southern town of Voznesensk, not far from Ukraine's second-largest atomic plant, have deepened fears of a nuclear accident.

On Sunday, US President Joe Biden, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron held a phone call stressing the importance of ensuring the safety of nuclear installations.

On Friday, the French presidency said Russian President Vladimir Putin had agreed that inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency can visit the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant.

In another development, the daughter of an influential Russian political theorist was killed in the car bombing on the outskirts of Moscow, authorities said on Sunday.

The Moscow branch of the Russian Investigative Committee said preliminary information indicated that 29-year-old TV commentator Darya Dugina was killed by an explosive planted in the SUV she was driving on Saturday night.

The bloodshed gave rise to suspicions that the intended target was her father, Alexander Dugin, a Russian philosopher and writer.

The explosion took place as Dugin's daughter was returning from a cultural festival she had attended with him. Russian media reports cited witnesses as saying the SUV belonged to Dugin and that he had decided at the last minute to travel in another vehicle.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin said that Dugina's killing was a "vile crime".

Ongoing investigation

Russia's top counterintelligence agency on Monday blamed Ukrainian spy agencies for organizing the killing.

Russia's Federal Security Service, or FSB said that the killing has been "prepared and perpetrated by the Ukrainian special services".

It charged that the killing was perpetrated by a Ukrainian citizen, who left Russia for Estonia after the killing. The FSB said that the suspect, Natalya Vovk, rented an apartment in the building where Dugina lived and shadowed her.

It said that Vovk and her daughter were at the festival that Dugin and his daughter attended just before the killing.

Maria Zakharova, Russia's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said on Sunday that if the investigation's trail led to Ukraine, then it would point to a policy of "state terrorism" being pursued by Kyiv.

Denis Pushilin, a prominent official in Donetsk, blamed the blast on "terrorists of the Ukrainian regime, trying to kill Alexander Dugin".

Ukraine has previously denied any involvement in the killing.

Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, denied Ukrainian involvement, saying: "We are not a criminal state…and definitely not a terrorist state."

Dugin is a prominent proponent of the "Russian world" concept, a spiritual and political ideology that emphasizes traditional values. His daughter expressed similar views.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry and the Chinese embassy in Ukraine on Monday reminded Chinese citizens not to go to Ukraine for now. In a statement released on the embassy's WeChat public account, it also advised Chinese already in Ukraine to strengthen security precautions and contact the Chinese embassy.