Russian shell town near Europe’s largest nuclear power plant

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian forces shelled a Ukrainian town near Europe’s largest nuclear power plant on Thursday, bolstering warnings from the UN nuclear chief that fighting around the site could lead to an accident disastrous.

Dnipropetrovsk regional governor says Russia fired 60 rockets at Nikopol, across the Dnieper, from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which has been under Russian surveillance since Moscow troops seized it early of the war.

Some 50 residential buildings were damaged in the city of 107,000 and residents were left without power, Valentyn Reznichenko wrote on Telegram.

Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, warned on Tuesday that the situation was becoming more dangerous every day at the Zaporizhzhia power plant in the city of Enerhodar.

“All nuclear safety principles were violated” at the plant, he said. “What is at stake is extremely serious and extremely serious and dangerous.”

He expressed concern about the way the plant is operated and the danger posed by the fighting taking place around it. He cited the bombings at the start of the war during its takeover and the continued instances of Ukraine and Russia blaming each other for attacks there.

Experts from the US Institute for the Study of War said they believed Russia was intentionally bombing the region, “putting Ukraine in a difficult position”.

“Either Ukraine retaliates, risking international condemnation and a nuclear incident – which Ukrainian forces are unlikely to do – or Ukrainian forces allow Russian forces to continue firing at Ukrainian positions from a ‘safe zone’ effective,” the think tank said.

Russia’s capture of Zaporizhzhia has rekindled fears that the largest of Ukraine’s four nuclear power plants could be damaged, triggering an emergency like the Chernobyl accident in 1986, the world’s worst nuclear disaster, which occurred some 110 kilometers away (65 miles) north of the capital, Kyiv.

Also in the Zaporizhzhia region, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Lt. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said the Russian military struck two Ukrainian ammunition depots near the village of Novoivanivka and a fuel depot near from Zaporizhzhia train station.

In northern Ukraine, the country’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, was bombed by the Russians, the Ukrainian presidential office said. Several industrial sites were hit in the city, which was a frequent target. In the nearby town of Chuhuiv, a rocket hit a five-story residential building.

Fighting continued in the bitterly disputed region of Donetsk in the east, with Ukrainian authorities saying a school had been destroyed in the village of Ocheretyne. The attacks have disrupted gas, water and electricity supplies, and residents of the area are being evacuated.

In the city of Toretsk, artillery shells hit a bus stop, a church and apartment buildings, killing at least eight people, regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said.

In the city of Donetsk, Russian-backed separatist authorities accused Ukrainian forces of shelling the center of the city on Thursday. The affected area was near a theater where a farewell ceremony was being held for a prominent separatist officer killed a few days ago. Donetsk Mayor Alexei Kulemzin said six people were killed.

Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, denied any Ukrainian involvement. He alleged, without providing evidence, that Russian or separatist forces were responsible for the bombardment.

Russia and Ukraine have repeatedly accused each other of firing on territories under their own control.

Russian forces have already seized the Lugansk region neighboring Donetsk. Its Ukrainian governor, Serhiy Haidai, said on social media that local residents are being mobilized by the Russian side to fight Kyiv forces and that “even essential mine workers are being taken”.

Ukrainian authorities reported another kidnapping of a mayor who allegedly refused to collaborate with the Russians in the southern region of Kherson, which is also almost fully occupied.

The reported kidnapping of Serhiy Lyakhno, mayor of the village of Hornostaivka, comes as Russia is gathering more troops in the region ahead of a Kyiv counteroffensive and ahead of a planned referendum on the region’s integration into the Russia.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the Russian-Ukrainian War at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

Mary I. Bruner