Russian artillery fired at Ukrainian towns across the river from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant overnight, local officals said on Sunday, adding to residents’ anguish as reports of shelling around the plant fuelled fears of a radiation disaster.
Russia’s defence ministry said on Sunday there was more Ukrainian shelling of the plant over the past 24 hours, just a day after Moscow and Kyiv traded accusations of targeting Europe’s biggest nuclear plant, which has prompted grave international concern.
Ukrainian nuclear company Energoatom said it had no new information about attacks on the plant.
Captured by Russian troops in March, but still run by Ukrainian staff, the complex on the southern front line of the war has been one of the major hotspots in the six-month-old conflict.
Regional governor Oleksandr Starukh said on Telegram on Sunday that Russian forces struck residential buildings in the region’s main city of Zaporizhzhia, about a two-hour drive from the plant, and the town of Orikhiv further east.
On Saturday, Starukh told Ukrainian television residents were being taught how to use iodine in case of a radiation leak.
Ukraine’s military reported shelling of nine more towns in the area on the opposite side of the Dnipro river from the plant in its daily report, while the RIA agency quoted the Russian defence ministry as saying its air force struck a Motor Sich plant in the region where helicopters were repaired.
Reuters could not verify those reports.
Russian Defence Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said nine shells fired by the Ukrainian artillery in two separate attacks landed on the nuclear plant’s grounds.
“At present, full-time technical personnel are monitoring the technical condition of the nuclear plant and ensuring its operation. The radiation situation in the area of the nuclear power plant remains normal,” he said in a statement.
The United Nations and Kyiv have called for a withdrawal of
military equipment and personnel from the plant to ensure it is not a target.
Kuleba said that Russian forces had turned the plant into military base, putting the whole continent at risk, and had no business being there.
“Russian military must get out of the plant,” he said on Twitter.
The U.N. nuclear watchdog IAEA is waiting for clearance for its officials to visit the plant, which its head said on Thursday should be “very, very close”.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy warned on Friday the situation at Zaporizhzhia remained “very risky” a day after it took hours to reconnect two of its reactors to the grid after shelling cut them off.
On Ukraine’s eastern front, Ukrainian forces halted the latest Russian attempt to advance on the town of Sloviansk, Kyiv’s military said in its daily report.
Defenders foiled Russian attempts to break through around the strategic city of Bakhmut to extend control over the Donbas region after Moscow captured Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk weeks ago, the military said. According to regional governors, the cities of Kramatorsk and Sloviansk in Donetsk province were shelled by Russian forces overnight, but there were no reports of new casualties.
Reuters could not verify those accounts.
President Vladimir Putin launched the invasion of Russia’s neighbour on Feb. 24, saying a “special operation” was needed to demilitarise the country and remove perceived security threats to Russia.
Ukraine and the West have dismissed this as a baseless pretext for an imperialist war of conquest that has killed thousands, displaced tens of millions, turned cities to rubble and threatened the global economy with an energy and food supply crunch sending prices soaring.