Tensions around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, on the frontlines of Ukraine’s war, escalated on Friday, as the Russian and Ukrainian military exchanged accusations that each was preparing for an attack in the coming days. plant, currently under Russian control, in southeastern Ukraine, risking catastrophic disaster.
Factory workers were ordered to stay at home on Friday, and Russia may be preparing to disconnect the plant from Ukraine’s power grid. The United Nations expressed alarm, warning that any damage to the plant would be “suicide”.
Russia’s Defense Ministry claimed that the Ukrainian military was preparing a “terrorist attack” on the sprawling Zaporizhzhia plant complex on the Dnipro River, prompting the Ukrainian military intelligence agency to respond that the Russian alert was actually a pretext for Moscow. stage a “provocation” of some kind on Friday.
Russian invading forces took control of Zaporizhzhia, Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, in early March and placed it under the control of Rosatom, the Russian state-owned nuclear company. But they kept Ukrainian officials there to operate it.
On Thursday, the Ukrainian intelligence agency said that Rosatom engineers had left the factory “urgently” and that only “operational personnel” would be allowed into the factory. “The entrance to all other employees will be closed,” he said.
A factory worker, communicating with The New York Times through a colleague in Kiev, said the workers were terrified.
“The situation is dire, everyone is afraid of the provocations announced by Russia,” said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “The Russian Defense Ministry said it expects attacks from the Ukrainian side, but we fully understand what that means. Even more people are trying to get out.”
Ukraine has warned that Russia may be planning a “large-scale terrorist attack” on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant to blame Kiev, while Russia said Ukraine and the United States are planning to cause an accident at the plant, claiming that there is a risk and threat of core overheating – which could lead to a nuclear tragedy ten times worse than that of Chernobyl, according to experts.
Russia said on Friday that the presence of its troops at the site was a “guarantee” that there would be no repeat of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, and rejected UN calls for a demilitarized zone around the plant.
French President Emmanuel Macron spoke by phone on Friday with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss the situation in Ukraine. According to Russian state news agencies, Putin said the bombing of the Zaporizhzhia plant created the risk of a full-scale catastrophe.
Russian forces have ordered plant employees not to show up for work amid tensions and to limit the complex’s personnel to only those who operate the plant’s power units, according to Ukraine’s state-owned energy company Energoatom. Ukraine added that it has “information” that Russian forces plan to shut down the plant’s power blocks and disconnect them from the Ukrainian grid – depriving the country of an important source of electricity.
Any fake factory raid operations would be in the “Russian playbook – accuse others of what you have done or intend to do,” US State Department spokesman Ned Price said when asked about the warnings. He said the United States is “watching very closely.”
Fears of a possible attack came even after United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres held talks in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv with the Ukrainian and Turkish presidents in an effort to ease military tensions around the site. . UN nuclear regulators have been asking for access to the plant to ensure its safety.
For the first time, the invasion of Ukraine ordered by President Vladimir Putin has placed nuclear power plants in a war zone. For many Ukrainians, the risk is all too familiar: the Chernobyl plant, site of the world’s worst nuclear accident in 1986, is in Ukraine, north of Kiev, the capital. Russian forces also seized this factory early in the war, before withdrawing.
The Zaporizhzhia compound was hit several times by shelling, with each side blaming the other, and warning that a single shell hitting the wrong spot could spell disaster. Russian military units have taken up positions in and around the terrain, leading to accusations that they are using it as a shield, and launching projectiles and rockets across the Dnipro, knowing the Ukrainians are reluctant to fire back.
“The world is on the verge of nuclear disaster due to the occupation of the world’s third largest nuclear power plant in Energodar, Zaporizhzhia region,” Ukraine’s President Volodmr Zelensky wrote on Twitter on Thursday. “How long will it take for the global community to respond to Russia’s irresponsible actions and nuclear blackmail?”
UN officials have warned of the risks the fighting poses to the plant and its six reactors. Rafael Mariano Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told the UN Security Council last week that the situation has deteriorated “to the point of being very alarming”.
The uncertainty surrounding the safety of the plant was underscored by a video that circulated online on Thursday showing at least five military trucks inside one of the complex’s buildings. Using archival photos of the interior of the different facilities at the nuclear complex, The New York Times determined that the video was taken inside the engine room of one of the plant’s reactors.
Why Russia would place military vehicles so close to a reactor is unclear. The reactors themselves are heavily fortified.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitro Kuleba said on Thursday that Grossi had accepted a Ukrainian invitation to lead a delegation to the factory. “I emphasized the mission’s urgency to address the threats to nuclear security caused by Russian hostilities,” Kuleba wrote on Twitter.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Twitter that he spoke with Kuleba about “our ongoing concerns” in Zaporizhzhia.
But whatever the Ukrainian authorities say, it is the Russians who own the plant, and it was unclear whether a visit by the international nuclear agency could be organized amid the fighting. Russia has expressed support for international monitors to inspect the site, but Ukraine has until recently indicated reluctance, possibly out of concern that such a visit could somehow legitimize Russian occupation of the site.
Russia continued to attack Ukrainian cities and towns. On Wednesday night and Thursday morning, a barrage of rockets hit the northeastern city of Kharkiv, destroying a dormitory for the deaf and elderly, pulverizing dozens of homes and killing at least 15 civilians, officials said. Ukrainians.
The civilian death toll in the city over the six months of the war has now surpassed 1,000, according to local officials. “Last night turned out to be one of the most tragic for the Kharkiv region during the entire war,” regional administrator Oleh Siniehubov said on Thursday morning. Rescue teams are still rushing between the blast sites, he said, adding that the casualty count could grow.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said it hit a target in Kharkiv housing foreign mercenaries, but offered no evidence to support the claim.
The attacks began around 9:30 pm local time on Wednesday, when a Russian cruise missile hit a dormitory housing elderly and hearing-impaired people, according to Ukrainian officials. At least 10 civilians were killed and another 17 were injured, including an 11-year-old child.
As some of those living in the building were deaf, Ukrainian officials said, they may not have heard the wail of the oncoming missile alarm, or the screams of firefighters calling for survivors.
Video of the rescue efforts showed relatives of people inside a destroyed building screaming, crying and calling for their loved ones. “My grandmother is there,” shouts a man. There was no response.