Threat to Ukraine nuclear plant grows as fighting breaks out

ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine – The main front in Russia’s military assault on Ukraine appears to have veered dangerously south of the country, threatening disaster at Europe’s largest nuclear power plant and equipment. set up a possible struggle for an important capital of the region captured by Russia at the start of the invasion.

Initially centered in the north around the capital Kyiv, and then turning into a brutal carnage in the east involving months of gunfights on both sides, the war entered a new phase. new phase and each side hopes, the decisive phase.

With fierce fighting around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant and the Russian-occupied city of Kherson, some 60 kilometers down the Dnipro River, the south is now where both Russia and Ukraine are concentrating their fire – and hopefully The hope of avoiding an impasse that could last for years.

Over the weekend, Russia used the territory around the nuclear power plant, which it seized from Ukraine in March, as a staging ground for attacks on Ukrainian positions. It caused a barrage of grenades into the nearby Ukrainian town of Nikopol, local officials said.

The increasingly fierce battles around the power plant, prompting people in the region to flee and raising alarms about the radiation risk far beyond Ukraine, come as Russian forces in Kherson face encirclement of the Ukrainian army.

The precarious position of the Russians in Kherson, who were largely cut off from their main supplies after Ukraine knocked down the last of four bridges over the Dnipro, has led to speculation about their fate. .

Several reports on Saturday said Russian commanders had retreated from the city. A regional lawmaker, Serhiy Khlan, told Ukrainian television on Sunday that Russia is moving its Kherson command center across the Dnipro to safer territory on the east coast.

However, senior Ukrainian military sources said they saw no evidence that Russian commanders were withdrawing. Analysts warn that Ukrainian politicians have a penchant for exaggerating Russia’s troubles in order to raise morale and demoralize the Russian military.

But the Russian forces in Kherson were clearly in trouble as their supply lines Has been harmed. And Mr Khlan said the only way they can now safely reach the Russian-held territory east of the Dnipro, is to use a pontoon bridge or walk without their equipment, crossing bridges that are blocked severely damaged.

An all-out assault on Kherson, long threatened by Ukraine but so far limited to attacks on neighboring villages and alerting Russian troops stationed there, has made Moscow special. wishes to hold onto the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Plant northeast of the Dnipro River.

Its goal was to suppress the Ukrainian army and prevent them from participating in any battle for Kherson, the first major city captured by Russia at the start of the war, and projectiles fired from the base’s direction. nuclear was fired on a small town nearby. of Ukraine through a reservoir on the Dnipro.

In a speech Saturday night to his country, the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, accused Moscow of “nuclear blackmail” and warned Russian soldiers at the Zaporizhzhia plant that they had become ” special target” for the special services and military of Ukraine.

But the Ukrainian military says it has limited options. They feared that if their forces returned fire to the Russians, they could attack the vast Zaporizhzhia facility, the first operational nuclear power plant in the combat zone.

As skirmishes broke out near operating reactors and nuclear waste was stored, the United States and the European Union called for the creation of a demilitarized zone around the plant. But residents who fear a nuclear disaster have rushed to leave the area and things are getting worse, Dmytro Orlov, the exiled mayor of a nearby city, Enerhodar, said in a statement. Sunday interview.

“With each day the situation gets worse,” he said.

Mr Orlov said he spoke to a shift chief at the nuclear plant on Sunday morning and was told that whistles and firecrackers were almost constant there. “They’re shooting day and night,” Orlov said. Orlov said the boss of the shift had planned to kick the family out of the area and was considering not coming back.

Since Russia captured the plant in March, its military has taken control of the facility, while Ukrainian engineers continue to operate it. Orlov said plant employees were “trying to get their wives and children out” while keeping shifts at the nuclear site. An exodus of Ukrainian workers at the site would raise the risk that, even without being hit by a missile, the reactors could malfunction without trained personnel to monitor them.

Fighting has also intensified in Russian-occupied Enerhodar, about 3 kilometers from the nuclear plant. Orlov said the Russian military was firing rockets from the outskirts of the town.

Energoatom, a state-owned company that operates Ukraine’s nuclear power plants, said in a statement Sunday that one person was killed by Russian shelling near Enerhodar and two nuclear plant workers were injured. love.

Russia also continues to pressurize around the northern city of Donetsk, with proxies under the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic gnawing at Ukrainian positions along the largely frozen front. since 2014, when Russia first invaded eastern Ukraine and occupied Crimea.

The Russian Defense Ministry said on Saturday that its forces had taken full control of Pisky, a village on the outskirts of Donetsk, but Britain’s defense intelligence agency said late Saturday that the village ” may still be in dispute.”

The British agency said that Russia’s main objective over the past week was “to be able to reorient units to reinforce southern Ukraine”.

After months of fighting and Russia gaining increased interest in the Donetsk region and other parts of eastern Ukraine, Russia has now shifted its resources to the south, where any major interests Any move by Ukraine would threaten Russia’s grip on Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula it seized in 2014. In what Ukraine warns is a taste of things to come for the Russian military, At least eight Russian warplanes were wrecked last week in a series of explosions at a Russian airbase in Crimea.

In a Telegram post, in a Telegram post, Yevheny Yetushenko, the governor of Ukraine’s military, Yevheny Yetushenko, said during the night and dawn of Sunday.

Russia denies Ukraine’s attempt to set fire to the plant and says Ukraine alone is responsible for any damage to the facility, which includes six separate nuclear reactors.

Former employees who have fled say they have seen Russian military equipment on the factory’s territory and that Russia has been assembling heavy weapons there for several weeks.

As difficult conditions in and near the plant and the flight of civilians out of the area accelerated, long lines of cars carrying fleeing civilians formed around Enerhodar over the weekend.

“Locals are abandoning town,” said one former engineer, who asked to be identified only by his first name, Oleksiy, because of security concerns.

Engineers say that the meter-thick reinforced concrete containment structures protect the reactors from direct impacts. However, there is international concern that the shelling could cause a fire or other damage leading to a nuclear accident.

The six pressurized water reactors at the complex retain most of the radiation sources, minimizing risk. Dmytro Gortenko, a former plant engineer, said that after the pressurized water reactor failed at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan in 2011, Ukraine upgraded the Zaporizhzhia site so it could be shut down even when cooling water loss from outside the containment structure.

Oleksiy, who left in June, said most of the Ukrainian employees are not fleeing, they are sending their families. Enerhodar was built for factory employees during the Soviet era and had a population of about 50,000 before the war.

Michael Schwirtz Contribution reports from Odesa, Ukraine, and Marc Santora from Kyiv.

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