KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian troops seized Europe’s largest nuclear power plant on Friday after a midnight attack that set it ablaze and briefly sparked global fears of disaster at the sharpest turning point. frightening of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
Firefighters extinguished the blaze and no radiation was emitted, UN and Ukrainian officials said, as Russian forces continued their week-long offensive on multiple fronts and the number of refugees fleeing the country exceeded 1.2 million.
With global condemnation mounting, the Kremlin clamped down on the flow of news at home, blocking Facebook, Twitter, the BBC and the US government-funded Voice of America. And President Vladimir Putin has signed a law making spreading so-called fake news, including anything that goes against the official government line on war, a crime punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
As the vast Russian armored column threatening Kiev remained pinned down outside the capital, Putin’s army launched hundreds of missiles and artillery attacks on towns and other sites across the country , and made significant gains on the ground in the south in an apparent attempt to cut off Ukraine’s access to the sea.
During the attack on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in the southeastern city of Enerhodar, the head of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Mariano Grossi, said that A Russian “projectile” had hit a training center, not any of the six reactors.
The attack sparked global alarm and fear of a disaster that could eclipse the world’s worst nuclear disaster, Chernobyl in Ukraine in 1986. In an emotional nighttime speech, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he feared an explosion that would be “the end for everyone.” The end for Europe. Evacuation from Europe.
But nuclear officials from Sweden to China said no radiation spikes had been reported, as did Grossi.
Authorities said Russian troops had taken control of the entire site, but factory staff continued to operate it. Only one reactor was operating, at 60% capacity, Grossi said the day after the attack.
Two people were injured in the fire, Grossi said. Ukrainian nuclear power plant operator Enerhoatom said three Ukrainian soldiers were killed and two injured.
In the United States, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the episode “underscores the recklessness with which the Russians carried out this unprovoked invasion.” At an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, Ukraine’s UN ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya said the fire started as a result of the Russian shelling of the factory and accused Moscow of having committed “an act of nuclear terrorism”.
Without producing evidence, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov claimed that a Ukrainian “sabotage group” had set fire to Zaporizhzhia.
The crisis unfolded after Grossi earlier in the week expressed grave concern that the fighting could cause accidental damage to Ukraine’s 15 nuclear reactors at four plants across the country.
Atomic security experts have declared that a war waged in the midst of nuclear reactors represents an unprecedented and very dangerous situation.
“These factories are now in a situation that few people seriously considered when they were first built,” said Edwin Lyman of the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington. “No nuclear power plant was designed to withstand the potential threat of large-scale military attack.”
Dr Alex Rosen of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War said the incident was likely the result of military units overestimating the accuracy of their weapons, since prevailing winds would have carried any radioactive fallout directly to Russia. .
“Russia can have no interest in contaminating its own territory,” he said. He said the danger came not just from reactors, but also from the risk of enemy fire hitting storage facilities that hold spent fuel rods.
Following the attack, Zelenskyy again appealed to the West to impose a no-fly zone over his country. But NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg ruled out that possibility, citing the risk of a much wider war in Europe. He said that to enforce a no-fly zone, NATO planes would have to shoot down Russian planes.
“We understand the desperation, but we also believe that if we did this we would end up with something that could end in a full-fledged war in Europe,” Stoltenberg said.
The plant fire was the second time since the start of the invasion that concerns about a possible nuclear accident have arisen, after a battle at the heavily contaminated site of the now decommissioned Chernobyl power plant.
Russian forces, meanwhile, continued their offensive in the south of the country. Cutting Ukraine’s access to the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov would deal a severe blow to its economy and could worsen an already dire humanitarian situation.
A series of talks between Russia and Ukraine resulted in an agreement in principle on Thursday to set up safe corridors to evacuate citizens and deliver food and medicine. But the necessary details remained to be settled.
The UN human rights office said 331 civilians were killed in the invasion, but the true number is likely much higher.
In Romania, newly arrived refugee Anton Kostyuchyk struggled to hold back tears as he recounted leaving everything behind in Kyiv and sleeping in churches with his wife and three children during their journey.
“I leave my home, my country. I was born there and lived there,” he said. “And what now?”
Appearing on video in a message to anti-war protesters in several European cities, Zelenskyy continued to plead for help.
“If we fall, you will fall,” he said. “And if we win, and I’m sure we will win, it’ll be everyone’s democratic victory.” This will be the victory of our freedom. It will be the victory of light over darkness, of freedom over slavery.
Inside Ukraine, frequent shelling could be heard in central Kyiv, although further away than in recent days, with loud thuds every 10 minutes echoing across rooftops.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovich said fighting involving airstrikes and artillery continued northwest of Kyiv and the northeast cities of Kharkiv and Okhtyrka were under heavy fire.
He said Ukrainian forces were still holding the northern city of Chernihiv and had blocked Russian efforts to take the important southern city of Mykolaiv. Ukrainian artillery also defended Odessa against repeated attempts by Russian ships to fire on the Black Sea port, Arestovich said. Odessa is Ukraine’s largest port city and home to a large naval base.
The Ukrainian Navy scuttled its flagship at the shipyard where it was being repaired to prevent the frigate from being seized by the Russians, authorities said.
Another strategic port, Mariupol, on the Sea of Azov, was “partially besieged” and Ukrainian forces were repelling efforts to encircle the city, Arestovich said. The fighting destroyed the city’s electricity, heating and water systems, as well as most telephone services, officials said.
“The humanitarian situation is tense,” he said.
In the midst of the war, there were occasional signs of hope.
As explosions sounded on the outskirts of Kiev, Dmytro Shybalov and Anna Panasyk smiled and blushed at the registry office where they married on Friday. They fell in love in 2015 in Donetsk amid fighting between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces that was a precursor to the national war.
“We are in 2022 and the situation has not changed,” Shybalov said. “It’s scary to think about what will happen when our children are born.”
Karmanau reported from Lviv, Ukraine. Chernov reported from Mariupol, Ukraine. Sergei Grits in Odessa, Ukraine; Jamey Keaten in Geneva; Vanessa Gera in Warsaw, Poland; Frank Jordans in Berlin; Matt Sedensky in New York; Robert Burns in Washington; and other AP reporters around the world contributed to this report.