Risks at Ukrainian nuclear plant increase 'every day'

The mayor of Energodar, home to the Zaporizhzhia plant, says the situation is hazardous

A Russian serviceman guards an area of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station, south-eastern Ukraine, on May 1. AP
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The mayor of the city that is home to Europe's largest nuclear plant on Sunday said the risk of disaster there is "increasing every day", after Ukraine and Russia exchanged blame for shelling around the complex.

Russian troops have occupied the Zaporizhzhia plant in south-eastern Ukraine since March, and Kyiv has accused Moscow of basing hundreds of soldiers and storing weapons there.

The nuclear plant has come under fire repeatedly in the past week, raising fears of a nuclear catastrophe.

"What is happening there is outright nuclear terrorism and it can end unpredictably at any moment," Dmytro Orlov, the Mayor of Energodar city, told AFP from the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia.

Mr Orlov said there was mortar shelling on the plant "every day and night".

"The situation is hazardous and what causes the most concern is that there is no de-escalation process," he said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy previously accused Russia of nuclear "blackmail" and using the plant to "intimidate people in an extremely cynical way".

Mr Zelenskyy has said Russian troops were "hiding" behind the plant to stage bombings on the Ukrainian-controlled towns of Nikopol and Marganets.

But pro-Moscow officials in the occupied areas of Zaporizhzhia blamed the shelling on Ukrainian forces.

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Missiles fell "in the areas located on the banks of the Dnipro river and in the plant", said Vladimir Rogov, a member of the Moscow-installed administration, without reporting any casualties or damage.

The river divides the areas occupied by Russia and those under Ukraine's control.

Mr Orlov said that over the past 24 hours, Energodar, which he left at the end of April, was shelled for the first time, leading to a dramatic increase in those hoping to flee.

Amid safety fears, he warned that in the "near future" there may not be enough personnel to manage the station.

Kyiv and Moscow have traded accusations over several rounds of shelling on the plant this month, with the strikes raising fears of a nuclear catastrophe.

In the village of Vyshchetarasivka, on the opposite bank of the Dnipro to the plant, resident Viktor Shabanin said the latest developments had left people "nervous".

"Often the wind blows in our direction. So the radiation will go immediately to us, and the radiation will go into the water," said Mr Shabanin, 57.

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There were air raid sirens and distant strikes on Sunday but reported no new fighting around the plant, AFP reported.

The UN Security Council held an emergency meeting over the situation on Thursday and warned of a "grave" crisis unfolding in Zaporizhzhia.

The alarm has revived painful memories of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster — the world's worst nuclear accident — in Ukraine when it was part of the Soviet Union, spreading radioactive dust and ash across Europe.

Anastasiya Rudenko, 63, believes her late husband, who worked to decontaminate the Chernobyl disaster zone, died of bladder cancer in 2014 because of radiation.

"We could have the same fate as the people of Chernobyl," Ms Rudenko told AFP.

"There's nothing good in what's going on and we don't know how it will end."

Backed by western allies, Ukraine has called for a demilitarised zone around the plant and demanded the withdrawal of Russian forces.

Russian troops trying to press their offensive near the Dnipro in the southern Kherson region are under pressure after strategically important bridges were damaged, a Ukrainian politician said on Sunday.

Regional legislator Sergiy Khlan said the pontoons the Russians were using could not fully meet their needs and that command centres were being moved as they were at risk of being cut off from supplies.

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In his daily address on Sunday, Mr Zelenskyy backed the idea of a blanket ban by the EU on visas for all Russian travellers, currently being considered by the Czech Republic, which holds the rotating presidency for the bloc.

"The discussion … is expanding every day," he said. "New states and new politicians are joining it. Ultimately, this should lead to appropriate decisions."

Mr Zelenskyy said the Ukrainian Parliament would make a decision "in the near future" on extending martial law.

A major consequence of the war has been soaring food prices after a Russian naval blockade and Kyiv's mining of its ports prevented Ukrainian grain from being sold on global markets.

A landmark deal last month between Russia and Ukraine brokered by Turkey and the UN created safe corridors to allow key grain exports to resume.

Kyiv on Sunday said the first UN-chartered vessel carrying grain from Ukraine to relieve the global food crisis was loaded with 23,000 tonnes of wheat and ready to depart.

Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said the MV Brave Commander, in the Black Sea port of Pivdennyi, will head to Africa with the cargo.

Updated: August 15, 2022, 3:34 AM