Shelling threatens nuke plant again

Watchdog: ‘Urgent measures’ needed to prevent catastroph­e

- By John Leicester and Hanna Arhirova

KYIV, Ukraine — Powerful explosions from shelling shook Ukraine’s Zaporizhzh­ia region, the site of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, the global nuclear watchdog said Sunday, calling for “urgent measures to help prevent a nuclear accident” in the Russian-occupied facility.

A heavy barrage of Russian military strikes — almost 400 on Sunday — also hit Ukraine’s eastern regions, and fierce ground battles shook the eastern Donetsk province, Ukraine’s president said in his evening update.

Rafael Mariano Grossi, the director general of the Internatio­nal Atomic Energy Agency, said explosions near the plant Saturday evening and Sunday morning abruptly ended a period of relative calm around the nuclear facility that has been the site of fighting since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.

The fighting has raised the specter of a nuclear catastroph­e ever since Russian troops occupied the plant during the early days of the war.

In renewed shelling both close to and at the site, IAEA experts at the Zaporizhzh­ia facility reported hearing more than a dozen blasts Sunday morning and could see some explosions from their windows, the agency said.

Later in the day, the IAEA said the shelling had stopped and that its experts would assess the situation Monday.

“There has been damage to parts of the site, but no radiation release or loss of power,” the agency said.

Still, Grossi called the shelling “extremely disturbing,” and appealed to both sides to urgently implement a nuclear safety and security zone around the facility.

“Whoever is behind this, it must stop immediatel­y,” he said. “As I have said many times before, you’re playing with fire!”

Russia has been pounding Ukraine’s power grid and other infrastruc­ture from the air, causing widespread blackouts and leaving millions of Ukrainians without heat, power or water as frigid cold and snow blankets the capital, Kyiv, and other cities.

Ukraine’s state nuclear power operator, Energoatom, said Russian forces were behind the shelling of the Zaporizhzh­ia plant, and that the equipment targeted was consistent with the Kremlin’s intent “to damage or destroy as much of Ukraine’s energy infrastruc­ture as possible” as winter sets in.

The weekend strikes damaged the system that would enable two of the plant’s units to start producing electricit­y again for Ukraine, the power operator said. The State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectora­te of Ukraine hopes to bring the two units to a minimally controlled power level to obtain steam, critical in winter for ensuring the safety of the plant and the surroundin­g area, Energoatom said.

Moscow blamed Ukrainian forces for the damage. Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenko­v accused the Ukrainians of shelling the power plant twice Sunday and said two shells hit near power lines supplying the plant with electricit­y.

Elsewhere in the Zaporizhzh­ia region, Russian forces shelled civilian infrastruc­ture in about a dozen communitie­s, destroying 30 homes, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office said Sunday. Twenty buildings were damaged in shelling at Nikopol, a city across the river from the Zaporizhzh­ia plant, it said.

In his evening address, Zelenskyy said Ukrainian forces were making small gains in the eastern Luhansk region and were holding their ground in battles in the south.

Blackouts were scheduled Sunday night in 15 regions of Ukraine and the city of Kyiv, Zelenskyy said. The country’s power utility said there would be scheduled outages in every region on Monday.

“The restoratio­n of networks and technical supply capabiliti­es, the de-mining of power transmissi­on lines, repairs — everything goes on round the clock,” Zelenskyy said.

Three districts in the northern Kharkiv region — Kupyansk, Chuguiv and Izyum — also came under Russian artillery fire.

The situation in the southern Kherson region “remains difficult,” the president’s office said, citing Ukraine’s armed forces. Russian forces fired tank shells, rockets and other artillery on the city of Kherson and several nearby settlement­s recently liberated by Ukrainian forces.

Shelling late Saturday struck an oil depot in Kherson, igniting a huge fire that sent billowing smoke into the air. Russian troops also shelled people lining up to get bread in Bilozerka, a town in the Kherson province, wounding five, the report said.

In the city of Kherson — which still has little power, heat or water — more than 80 tons of humanitari­an aid have been sent, said local official Yaroslav Yanushevyc­h, including a UNICEF shipment of 1,500 winter outfits for children, two generators and drinking water.

Also Sunday, a funeral was held in eastern Poland for the second of two men killed in a missile explosion Tuesday. The other man was buried Saturday.

 ?? BERNAT ARMANGUE/AP ?? Residents line up to fill containers with drinking water on Sunday in the city of Kherson, Ukraine.
BERNAT ARMANGUE/AP Residents line up to fill containers with drinking water on Sunday in the city of Kherson, Ukraine.

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