Russians, Ukrainians again trade blame for new shelling near nuclear power plant

Nuclear experts fear fighting might damage Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant’s spent fuel pools or reactors

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A serviceman with a Russian flag on his uniform stands guard near the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. — Reuters file
A serviceman with a Russian flag on his uniform stands guard near the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. — Reuters file


Published: Mon 15 Aug 2022, 8:52 PM

Ukrainian and Russian-installed officials reported shelling near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in southern Ukraine on Monday, with both sides blaming each other after the International Atomic Energy Agency warned of disaster if the fighting does not stop.

Russia and Ukraine have traded accusations of shelling near the plant in recent days amid fears of a nuclear catastrophe at the complex, which dominates the south bank of a vast reservoir on the Dnipro River.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has warned Russian soldiers who attack Europe’s largest nuclear power station or use it as a base to shoot from that they will become a “special target”.

The plant is in the now Russian-controlled city of Enerhodar.

Yevhen Yevtushenko, head of the administration of the Nikopol district, which lies across the river from Enerhodar, blamed Russian forces for shelling the city.

Vladimir Rogov, a Russia-installed official in the city, said that over the past two hours about 25 heavy artillery strikes from US-made M777 howitzers had hit near the nuclear plant and residential areas.

Russia’s Interfax news agency, quoting the press service of Enerhodar’s Russian-appointed administration, said Ukrainian forces opened fire, with blasts near the power plant.

The IAEA, which is seeking access to the plant, has warned of possible disaster. Nuclear experts fear fighting might damage the plant’s spent fuel pools or reactors.

“The Russians think they can force the world to comply with their conditions by shelling the Zaporizhzhia NPP (nuclear power plant),” Andriy Yermak, chief of the Ukrainian presidential staff, wrote on Twitter. “This will not happen. Instead, our military will punish them by hard hitting with precision on pain points.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for the establishment of a demilitarised zone around Zaporizhzhia.

A spokeswoman for Russia’s foreign ministry said on Monday it would do all it could to allow IAEA specialists to visit the plant.

“In close cooperation with the agency and its leadership, we will do everything necessary for the IAEA specialists to be at the station and give a truthful assessment of the destructive actions of the Ukrainian side,” spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.

Ukraine, where parliament on Monday extended martial law for a further three months, has said for weeks it is planning a counteroffensive to recapture Zaporizhzhia and neighbouring Kherson province, the largest part of the territory Russia seized after its Feb. 24 invasion and still holds.

Ukrainian forces earlier reported heavy Russian shelling and attempts to advance on several towns in the eastern region of Donetsk that has become a key focus of the near six-month-old war, but said they had repelled many of the attacks.

The General Staff of Ukraine’s armed forces also reported Russian shelling of more than a dozen towns on the southern front - particularly the Kherson region, mainly held by Russian forces but where Ukrainian troops are steadily retaking territory.

Natalia Humeniuk, spokesperson for Ukraine’s southern military command, said on Monday the situation was complicated but under control. “The enemy doesn’t dare advance by land, but fires at the territories in the rear with artillery and rockets,” she told a news briefing.

Asked about Ukraine’s shelling on Sunday of the Antonivskyi Bridge in the Kherson region, she said Ukrainian forces were continuing to fire on routes used by the Russians for supplies.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Monday that Moscow was ready to offer modern weapons to its allies. He used a speech at an arms show near Moscow to boast of Russia’s advanced weapons capabilities.

“(We) are ready to offer our allies the most modern types of weapons, from small arms to armoured vehicles and artillery to combat aviation and unmanned aerial vehicles,” Putin said at the opening ceremony of the “Army-2022” forum.

“Almost all of them have been used more than once in real combat operations.”

But Putin’s military has performed worse than expected in Ukraine. Having been beaten back from Ukraine’s two biggest cities and making slow headway, at heavy cost, in the east of the country, the war has so far not proved to be a convincing showcase for Russia’s arms industry.

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