- IAEA chief warns: ‘You’re playing with fire!’ After the explosions
- Russia and Ukraine blamed trade for the shelling
- President Zelensky said that the eastern sector had been hit by heavy artillery
- ‘Terrible battles’ in Donetsk region, Zelensky says
LONDON/LVV, Ukraine, Nov 21 (Reuters) – The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog warned that artillery firing at Ukraine’s Zaporizhia nuclear power plant is playing with fire. Weekend strikes.
The attack on Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in Ukraine’s south comes as fighting erupts in the east, where Russian forces have pounded Ukrainian positions on the front lines, President Volodymyr Zelensky said.
The shelling of the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant followed a retaliatory strike by Russian forces in the southern Kherson region and a Russian response that included missile strikes across the country.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said more than a dozen explosions rocked the plant late Saturday and into Sunday. IAEA chief Rafael Grossi said the attacks were “extremely disturbing and completely unacceptable”.
“Whoever is behind this needs to stop immediately, as I’ve said many times before, you’re playing with fire!” Grossi said in a statement.
Russia and Ukraine have blamed each other for the shelling of the facility, as they have done repeatedly in recent months after or near the attack.
Citing information provided by plant management, an IAEA team on the ground said some buildings, systems and equipment were damaged, but none critical to nuclear safety and security.
The team plans to conduct an assessment on Monday, Grossi said, but Russian nuclear power operator Rosenergotum said there would be restrictions on what the team could examine.
“If they want to inspect a facility that has nothing to do with nuclear safety, access will be denied,” Renat Carcha, an adviser to the Rosenergottom CEO, told the Tass news agency.
Repeated shelling of the plant, 500 kilometers (300 miles) away from the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, the world’s worst nuclear accident, has raised concerns of a grave danger.
The Zaporizhzhya plant provided about a fifth of Ukraine’s electricity before the Russian invasion and was forced to run on back-up generators several times. It houses six Soviet-designed VVER-1000 V-320 water-cooled, water-moderated reactors containing uranium 235.
The reactors are shut down, but there is a risk that the nuclear fuel will overheat if the power to operate the cooling systems is cut. The shelling cut power lines several times.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said Ukraine fired shells at power lines supplying the plant, but Ukraine’s nuclear power firm Energotum accused Russia’s military of shelling the site, saying the Russians targeted infrastructure needed to restart parts of the plant to further limit Ukraine’s power supply.
In eastern Ukraine, Russian forces pounded Ukrainian forward positions with artillery fire, launching the strongest offensive in the Donetsk region, Zelensky said in a video speech.
Russia this month withdrew its troops from the southern city of Kherson and sent some of them to reinforce positions in the industrial areas of eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions known as the Donbass.
“The fiercest battles, as before, are in the Donetsk region. Although there are fewer attacks today due to bad weather, the level of Russian shelling is unfortunately very high,” Zelensky said.
“In the Luhansk region, we are slowly advancing as we fight. So far, there have been about 400 artillery strikes in the east since the beginning of the day,” he said.
Ukraine’s military confirmed early Monday that heavy fighting had taken place in the past 24 hours as its forces repelled Russian attacks in the Donetsk region, while Russian forces shelled the Luhansk region in the east and Kharkiv in the northeast.
In the south, Zelenskiy said the army was “consistently and very calculatedly destroying the occupiers’ potential,” but did not give details.
The city of Kherson remains without electricity, water or heating.
Ukraine said on Saturday that a long-range artillery strike in its south killed around 60 Russian soldiers, the second time in four days that Ukraine has claimed heavy casualties in an incident.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Sunday that 50 Ukrainian soldiers were killed on the southern Donetsk frontline in the past day and 50 elsewhere.
Reuters could not immediately verify any reports from the battlefield.
Russia calls its invasion of Ukraine a special operation to demilitarize and “destabilize” its neighbor, though Kai and its allies say the invasion was an unprovoked attack.
Oleh Shdanov, a military analyst in Kyiv, said that according to his information, Russian offensives are taking place on the Bakhmut and Avdivka fronts in the Donetsk region.
“The enemy is trying to break through our defenses, to no avail,” Shdanov said in a social media video. “We’re fighting back — they’re losing big.”
Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge in London, Pavel Polityuk in Kyiv, Caleb Davies in Gdansk and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Additional reporting by Francois Murphy in Vienna and Lydia Kelly in Melbourne; By Guy Faulconbridge, David Ljunggren, and Mr. Navaratnam; Editing by Robert Birzel
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