Russia seizes Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in ‘reckless’ assault

  • Intense fighting around the nuclear power plant
  • No sign of high radiation – US Energy Sec
  • Lviv prepares for mass child losses
  • Cities under bombardment

LVIV, Ukraine/KYIV, March 4 (Reuters) – Russian invading forces seized Europe’s largest nuclear power plant on Friday in what Washington said was a reckless assault that risked catastrophe, although a fire in a training building was turned off and officials said the facility was now safe.

Fighting raged elsewhere in Ukraine as Russian forces surrounded and bombarded several towns during the second week of the assault launched by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

A presidential adviser said an advance had been halted on the southern town of Mykolaiv after local authorities said Russian troops had entered it. If captured, the city of 500,000 would be the largest to fall.

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The capital Kiev, in the path of a Russian armored column stuck on a road for days, came under fresh attack, with air raid sirens blaring in the morning and explosions audible from the city center.

The US Embassy in Ukraine called the Russian assault on the Zaporizhzhia plant a “war crime”. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said it showed how reckless the Russian invasion had been.

“It just raises the level of potential disaster to a level that no one wants to see,” he told CNN.

Video verified by Reuters showed a burning building and a volley of incoming shells before a large glowing ball lit up the sky, exploding next to a parking lot and sending smoke billowing through the compound.

Thousands of people are believed to have been killed or injured and more than a million refugees have fled Ukraine since February 24, when Putin ordered the biggest attack on a European state since World War II.

Although the nuclear plant was later declared safe and the fire extinguished, officials grew concerned about the precarious situation.

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Raphael Grossi, paid tribute to the Ukrainian personnel of the plant: “to their bravery, their courage, their resilience because they do it in very difficult circumstances”.

The plant was not damaged by what he believed to be a Russian projectile, Grossi said. Only one of its six reactors was operating, at around 60% capacity.

An official from Energoatom, the Ukrainian nuclear power plant operator, told Reuters there was no more fighting and radiation was normal, but his organization no longer had contact with those responsible for the nuclear power plant. the plant or control over its nuclear materials.

The Russian Defense Ministry also said the plant was operating normally. He blamed the fire on a “monstrous attack” by Ukrainian saboteurs and said his forces were under control.

“EUROPEANS WAKE UP”

“Europeans, please wake up. Tell your politicians that Russian troops are firing on a nuclear power plant in Ukraine,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a video address. In another speech, he called on the Russians to demonstrate. Read more

Russian forces coming from three directions besieged towns, pounding them with artillery and airstrikes.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has become the latest Western leader to phone Putin and demand that he call off the war.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Russia was only increasing its strikes against civilians: “It is clear that this war of aggression by Putin is targeting the civilian population with the most brutal rigor.”

Moscow says its goal is to disarm its neighbor and capture leaders it calls neo-Nazis. Ukraine and its Western allies call it a baseless pretext for a war to conquer a country of 44 million people.

In the Borshchahivka district of Kiev, the twisted engine of a cruise missile lay in the street where it had apparently been shot down overnight by Ukrainian air defenses. Residents were furious but also proud of the successful defense of the city of 3 million, which Russia had hoped to capture within days.

Russian troops “should all go to hell,” said Igor Leonidovich, 62, an ethnic Russian who moved to Ukraine 50 years ago as a child. “For the occupants, it’s getting worse and worse, every day.”

In Russia itself, where Putin’s main opponents have been largely imprisoned or forced into exile, the war has led to a new crackdown on dissent. Authorities have banned reports that call the “special military operation” a “war.” Anti-war protests have been stifled by thousands of arrests.

On Friday, Russia shut down foreign broadcasters, including the BBC and Voice of America. The main independent Russian broadcasters, TV Dozhd and Ekho Moskvy radio, were closed on Thursday. The lower house of parliament has introduced a law to jail people who spread “false” reports for 15 years. Read more

Russia has been subjected to economic isolation never seen before on such a large economy. Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said more EU sanctions were to come, potentially including a ban on Russian-flagged ships in European ports and blocking imports of steel, timber , aluminum or coal.

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said Western countries should consider measures targeting Russia’s oil and gas sector, which is still excluded from sanctions.

Russian forces have made their biggest advances in the south, where they this week captured their first major Ukrainian city, Kherson. The mayor of nearby Mykolayiv said they were now in his city, a shipbuilding port of 500,000 people.

Zelenskiy’s military adviser, Oleksiy Arestovych, said the Russian advance had been halted: “We can feel cautious optimism about the future prospects of the enemy offensive – I think it will be halted in other areas as well. .”

The southeastern port of Mariupol was surrounded and shelled, Britain said in an intelligence update. The authorities described it as a humanitarian emergency. Shelling has worsened in recent days in the northeastern cities of Kharkiv and Chernihiv.

Ukrainians fled the West, many crowding into Lviv near the Polish border.

James Elder, spokesman for the UN children’s agency, said doctors in Lviv were preparing a system to identify children in the event of mass casualties: “A green dot means good here, a yellow dot means essential support. They learn a blackhead means the child won’t make it.”

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Reporting by Pavel Polityuk, Natalia Zinets, Aleksandar Vasovic in Ukraine, John Irish in Paris, Francois Murphy in Vienna, David Ljunggren in Ottawa and other Reuters bureaus; Written by Lincoln Feast and Peter Graff; Editing by Timothy Heritage and Angus MacSwan

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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