- 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 Russian assault on the Zaporizhzhia plant showed just how reckless the invasion was, US Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told CNN.
“It just raises the level of potential disaster to a level that no one wants to see,” Kirby said.
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 car park and sending smoke billowing through the compound.
Although the plant was later declared safe and the fire put out, officials grew concerned about the precarious situation, with Ukrainian personnel now operating under Russian control.
The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Raphael Grossi, described the situation as “normal operations, but in fact there is nothing normal about it”.
He paid tribute to the Ukrainian staff at the factory: “to their bravery, their courage, their resilience because they do it in very difficult circumstances”.
Grossi said the plant was not damaged by what he believed to be a Russian projectile. Only one reactor was operating, at around 60% capacity. He was trying to contact Russian and Ukrainian officials to settle political responsibilities.
An official from Energoatom, the Ukrainian operator of the nuclear plant, said there was no more fighting and radiation was normal, but his organization no longer had contact with the management of the plant. or control over potentially dangerous nuclear materials.
“Staff are at their places of work ensuring the normal operation of the station,” the official told Reuters.
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”
Russia’s grip on a plant that supplies more than a fifth of Ukraine’s electricity was a big development after eight days of war in which further Russian advances were blocked by fierce resistance.
“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
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.
Russian forces coming from three directions besieged towns, pounding them with artillery and airstrikes.
Moscow says its goal is to disarm its neighbor and capture leaders it calls neo-Nazis and a threat to its own security. Ukraine and its Western allies call it a baseless pretext for a war to conquer a country of 44 million people.
FIGHT AGAINST RABIES, SANCTIONS ARE GOING UP
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 what they see as the successful defense of the city of 3 million, which Russia 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 banned reports referring to the “special military operation” as a “war” or an “invasion”. Anti-war protests have been stifled by thousands of arrests.
On Friday, Russia shut down foreign broadcasters including the BBC, Voice of America and Deutsche Welle. The most important independent Russian broadcasters, TV Dozhd (Rain) and Ekho Moskvy radio, were closed on Thursday. The lower house of parliament has introduced a law to impose prison sentences on people who spread “false” reports about the army. 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 – still excluded from sanctions – and how to reduce their dependence on Russian energy.
Only one major Ukrainian city, the southern port of Kherson, has fallen to Russian forces since the invasion began.
But Russian forces have made their greatest advances in the south. The mayor of Mykolayiv said they were now inside 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 stopped 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.
To the northeast, along another axis of the Russian attack, Kharkiv and Chernihiv have been shelled since the start of the invasion. The strikes have intensified but the defenders are holding on.
On Thursday, Russian and Ukrainian negotiators agreed in talks on the need for humanitarian corridors to help civilians escape and to deliver medicine and food to combat zones.
A spokesman for the UN children’s agency in Lviv said there had been a “senseless influx” of people into the city. Pediatricians were preparing for mass child casualties and identifying them, James Elder said.
“A green dot means good here, a yellow dot means critical support. They learn a black dot means the kid won’t do well.”
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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
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