Russia seizes Ukrainian nuclear power plant as forces besiege cities

  • Intense fighting around the nuclear power plant
  • US says assault on factory could be catastrophic
  • Lviv prepares for child losses
  • NATO says ‘no’ to no-fly zones

LVIV, Ukraine/KYIV, March 4 (Reuters) – Russian forces in Ukraine seized Europe’s largest nuclear power plant on Friday in an assault that alarmed the world and which Washington said could provoke a disaster, although officials later said the facility was now safe.

Fighting also raged elsewhere in Ukraine as Russian forces besieged and shelled several towns in the second week of an invasion launched by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The capital Kiev, in the path of a Russian armored column that had been stuck on a road for days, came under renewed attack, with explosions audible from the city center. Read more

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The southeast port city of Mariupol, a key hold for Russian troops, was surrounded and shelled. Its mayor said on Friday it had no water, heat or electricity and lacked food after five days of attacks.

“We are simply destroyed,” Mayor Vadym Boychenko said.

However, NATO allies on Friday rejected Ukraine’s call for no-fly zones, saying they were increasing their support but intervening directly would lead to a wider and even more brutal European war. .

Putin’s actions have drawn near-universal global condemnation, and Western countries have imposed heavy sanctions in an effort to squeeze Russia’s economy.

A humanitarian disaster is also brewing, with more than a million people seeking refuge in western Ukraine and neighboring countries. Thousands of people have reportedly been killed or injured since the February 24 invasion began.

The attack on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant has brought the conflict to a perilous moment. As shells hit the area, a fire broke out in a training building, setting off a spasm of alarm around the world before the blaze was extinguished and officials said the facility was safe.

US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the world narrowly avoided a nuclear catastrophe.

The attack reflects a “dangerous new escalation” in the Russian invasion, she told an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, warning that “imminent danger” persisted and demanding assurances from Moscow that such an attack would not happen again.

An official from Energoatom, the Ukrainian operator of the nuclear power plant, told Reuters the fighting had stopped and radiation levels were normal. But his organization no longer had contact with plant officials or control over its nuclear materials, he said.

International Atomic Energy Agency chief Raphael Grossi said the plant was not damaged by what he believed to be a Russian projectile. Only one of its six reactors was operating, at around 60% capacity.

The Russian Defense Ministry also said the plant was operating normally. He blamed the fire on an attack by Ukrainian saboteurs and said his forces were in control.

APPEAL DISMISSED

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has become the latest Western leader to phone Putin and demand that he call off the war. Its foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, said Russia was stepping up its strikes against civilians “with the most brutal rigor”.

But NATO allies meeting in Brussels rejected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s request for no-fly zones.

“We are not part of this conflict,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told a news conference.

“We have a responsibility as NATO allies to prevent this war from spreading beyond Ukraine, because that would be even more dangerous, more devastating and cause even more human suffering. “

Moscow denies targeting civilians and says its goal is to disarm its neighbor, counter what it sees as NATO aggression 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.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney lamented “the images we are seeing of apartment buildings in working-class neighborhoods outside cities with half the buildings destroyed, in smoking rubble”.

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, he said. declared.

DEFEND KIEV

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.

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.”

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

Advisor Oleksiy Arestovych said: “We can feel cautious optimism about the future prospects of the enemy offensive – I think it will be stopped in other areas as well.”

Russian forces have made their biggest advances in the south, where they this week captured their first major Ukrainian city, Kherson. Shelling has worsened in recent days in the northeastern cities of Kharkiv and Chernihiv.

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

James Elder of 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 critical support. They learn that a black dot means the child won’t do well,” he said.

REPRESS

In Russia, where Putin’s main opponents have largely been imprisoned or forced into exile, the war has led to a new crackdown on dissent.

Authorities have banned reports referring to what they call a “special military operation” as a “war”. Anti-war protests have been stifled by thousands of arrests.

Russia previously cut off access to the websites of several foreign news outlets, including the BBC, Voice of America and Deutsche Welle, for spreading what it said was false information about its war in Ukraine.

Parliament passed a law on Friday imposing a prison sentence of up to 15 years for intentionally spreading “false” information about the military. The BBC said it would temporarily suspend the work of all its journalists and support staff in Russia after the law was introduced. Read more

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Reporting by Pavel Polityuk, Natalia Zinets, Aleksandar Vasovic in Ukraine, John Irish in Paris, François Murphy in Vienna, David Ljunggren in Ottawa and other Reuters offices Writing by Peter Graff and Angus MacSwan, Editing by Frances Kerry and Jon Boyle

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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