The chief of the United Nations nuclear watchdog has condemned what he described as targeted attacks on the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine, calling for “an end to this madness”.
Powerful explosions of shelling shook Ukraine’s Zaporizhia region, the site of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, this weekend.
A heavy barrage of Russian military strikes — nearly 400 on Sunday alone — also hit Ukraine’s eastern regions, and fierce ground fighting was underway in eastern Donetsk province, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his evening update on Sunday.
“The news from our team yesterday and this morning is extremely disturbing,” Rafael Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said in a statement on Sunday.
“There have been explosions at the site of this large nuclear power plant, which is completely unacceptable.
“Whoever is behind this, it must stop immediately,” he added.
“As I’ve said many times before, you are playing with fire!”
In renewed shelling close to and at the site, IAEA experts from the Zaporizhzhia facility reported hearing more than a dozen blasts in a short period of time Sunday morning and could see some explosions from their windows, the agency said.
Later in the day, the IAEA said the shelling had stopped and its experts would assess the situation on Monday.
“There is damage to parts of the site, but no radiation release or power outages,” it said.
Speaking to a French broadcaster, Grossi said it was clear the factory raids were no accident.
“The people who do this know where they stand. It is absolutely intentional, targeted.”
Attacks in and around Zaporizhia raise the risk of a nuclear disaster at the plant, which Russia occupied shortly afterwards invasion of Ukraine on February 24.
Russia has been the power grid of Ukraine and other critical civilian infrastructure from the air, causing widespread blackouts and leaving millions of Ukrainians without heat, power or water as temperatures plummet and snow begins to fall in the capital, Kyiv, and other cities.
Energoatom, Ukraine’s state nuclear energy operator, blamed the Russian armed forces for the latest shelling of Zaporizhzhia, saying the targeted equipment was in line with the Kremlin’s intention to “damage as much of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure as possible or destroy” as winter sets in.
Moscow, meanwhile, has blamed Ukrainian forces for the damage.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov accused the Ukrainians of shelling the power plant twice on Sunday and said two shells had been fired near power lines supplying the plant with electricity.
Ukraine has said work continues to repair damage to the country’s energy infrastructure but would require “stabilization blackouts” in 15 regions, including the capital on Sunday night. The country’s power company said there would be planned power cuts in every region on Monday.
“Restoring networks and technical supply capabilities, demining power lines, repairs – everything is going on around the clock,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly speech.
Zelenskyy said Ukrainian forces made small gains in the eastern Luhansk region and held out in fighting in the south.
Russia withdrew its troops from the southern city of Kherson this month and moved some of them to reinforce positions to the east.
“The fiercest fighting, as before, is taking place in the Donetsk region. Unfortunately, while there were fewer attacks today due to the deteriorating weather, the number of Russian shellings remains extremely high,” Zelenskyy said.
In the speech, the president again parted ways Kiev’s conditions for peaceincluding food and energy security, the release of all prisoners and deportees, and the withdrawal of Russian troops from all Ukrainian territory.