KYIV, Ukraine – Russia continued shelling the vicinity of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, a local official said on Wednesday, a day after the United Nations atomic watchdog. China asked the warring parties to build a safe area there to protect against possible disaster.
Regional governor Valentyn Reznichenko said the city of Nikopol, located on the opposite bank of the Dnieper River from Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, had been hit by rockets and heavy artillery.
Reports of nearby shelling, which cannot be independently verified, have caused international alarm. The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Grossi, warned the UN Security Council on Tuesday that “something very, very catastrophic could happen” in Zaporizhzhia.
“There were fires, power outages and other things at (the plant) forcing us to prepare the locals for the consequences of the nuclear hazard,” said Reznichenko.
The potential danger prompted the United Nations atomic watchdog to urge Russia and Ukraine to establish a “nuclear safety and security protection zone” around the plant.
There are concerns that the fighting could cause a disaster on the scale of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. The plant was built during the Soviet era and is one of the 10 largest in the world.
Neither Moscow nor Kiev officials immediately committed to the idea of a safe zone, and said more details were needed on the proposal.
A senior Ukrainian official said the plant currently only generates electricity to power safety systems.
Oleh Korikov, acting Chief of State Inspector for Nuclear and Radiation Safety of Ukraine, said any further disruptions could force the plant to use a backup diesel generator, but that would resulted in bringing four diesel transport trucks a day through skirmishes.
“We could be in a situation where we run out of diesel,” he said. “And this can lead to accidents that damage the reactor’s operating area, and thus, release of radioactive products into the environment.”
Authorities could consider shutting down the plant, he said, without providing details on how it would work.
Russian President Vladimir Putin defied pressure for a truce, saying on Wednesday that Moscow would launch a military offensive in Ukraine until its goals were achieved. He also mocked Western efforts to contain Russia with sanctions.
According to the head of the city government Vadym Lyakh, the eastern city of Sloviansk was attacked by Russia on Wednesday morning, damaging a school and another building.
Firefighters in the city dug deep into the still smoldering rubble of an apartment building and pulled out at least one body bag.
Pieces of brick, brick and concrete lay among the torn branches of nearby trees, mixed with broken glass and tiled roofs. Metal doors, warped by the force of the explosion, hung from their hinges.
The strike happened around 4 a.m., said local resident Raisa Smelkova, 75, who lives in another part of the building. She and her husband were not injured.
Smelkova and her husband lived through the previous war in Ukraine in 2014, when Russia annexed the Crimea region. But this time, she said, things were much worse.
“What’s happening now is not only scary, it’s horrible,” she said. “There is more destruction. Everything is worse. Just everything.”
Ukraine’s presidential office said three civilians were killed in Russian shelling in the Donetsk region. The city of Kharkiv was hit by rockets twice during the night.
But Ukrainian forces have taken control of an unspecified number of towns in the Kherson region, according to Nataliya Humenyuk, a spokesman for the Southern Military Command. She said details would be released by the military leadership later.
The British Ministry of Defense said there was fierce fighting on three fronts: in the north, near Kharkiv; in the east in the Donbas; and to the south in Kherson Oblast.
With Ukraine counter-attacking in the east, “multiple threats spanning 500 km (310 mi) will test Russia’s ability to coordinate operational design and reallocate resources across multiple groups.” force,” the ministry said on Wednesday.
The Russian military held large-scale exercises that began last week and ended on Wednesday in the east of the country with the participation of forces from China. This is seen as another manifestation of the increasingly close relationship between Moscow and Beijing amid tensions with the West over military action in Ukraine.
Elena Becatoros of Sloviansk contributed to this report.
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