Ukrainian nuclear plant operating in emergency mode, state operator says

Europe’s largest nuclear power plant embroiled in Russia’s war in Ukraine is operating in emergency mode at a higher level of risk, Ukraine’s state nuclear energy operator said Friday.

The six-reactor Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant came under the control of Russian forces early in the war that started in February, but is being operated by Ukrainian staff. The plant and surrounding areas have been repeatedly hit by shelling that Russia and Ukraine blame on each other’s forces.

The last power line connecting the plant to the Ukrainian electricity grid was cut on Monday, leaving the plant without an outside source of electricity and receiving power for its own safety systems from the only one of the six reactors that remains operational.

Energoatom, the state nuclear operator, said Friday that repairs to the outside lines are impossible because of the shelling and that operating in the so-called “island” carries “the risk of violating radiation and fire safety standards.”

“Only the withdrawal of the Russians from the plant and the creation of a security zone around it can normalize the situation at the Zaporizhzhia NPP. Only then will the world be able to exhale,” Petro Kotin, the head of Energoatom, said Friday on Ukrainian TV.

Kotin explained in an interview with The Associated Press Thursday that the only operating reactor “can be stopped completely” at any moment, and as a consequence of that the only power source would be a diesel generator.

WATCH | Ukraine nuclear plant needs safety zone to prevent disaster, UN agency says

Ukraine nuclear plant needs safety zone to prevent disaster, UN agency says

The UN atomic watchdog agency urged Russia and Ukraine to create a nuclear safety and protection zone around the Zaporizhzhia power plant to prevent a Chornobyl-level disaster after inspectors found shelling has damaged six different areas in the plant — some close to reactor buildings.

There are 20 generators on site and enough diesel fuel for 10 days. After that, about 180 tonnes of diesel fuel would be needed daily for the generators, which he said is “impossible” while the plant is occupied by Russian forces.

Conditions ‘increasingly precarious’

The head of the UN atomic watchdog on Friday said conditions at the power plant are “becoming increasingly precarious” and a safety zone around it needs to be established immediately to prevent a nuclear accident.

Rafael Grossi, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, called for an immediate end to shelling in the area, which he said has caused a “complete blackout” in Enerhodar, the city where the plant is situated.

Grossi also said there is little likelihood of re-establishing reliable offsite power lines to the plant.

Meanwhile, fighting continued Friday in parts of southern and Eastern Ukraine and in the north, where Ukraine claims to have recently pushed Russian forces out of some areas.

Hospital struck, says governor

Russian planes bombed the hospital in the town of Velika Pysarivka, on the border with Russia, said Dmytro Zhyvytskyi, governor of the Sumy region in northeastern Ukraine. He said the building was destroyed and there were an unknown number of casualties.

In the Donetsk region in the east — one of two that Russia declared to be sovereign states at the outset of the war — eight people were killed in the city of Bakhmut over the past day and the city is without water and electricity for the fourth straight day, said Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko.

Four people were killed in shelling in the Kharkiv region, two of them in Kharkiv city, Ukraine’s second-largest, according to regional Gov. Oleh Syniehubov. The shelling of the city continued on Friday afternoon, Mayor Ihor Terekhov said, wounding 10 people, including three children.

Reported evacuation from Kharkiv region 

A Russian-installed official in Kharkiv region said on Friday that civilians are being evacuated from three Russian-held towns in the region that have come under threat from a Ukrainian counter-offensive.

Vitaly Ganchev said on state television host Vladimir Solovyov’s daily live stream that civilians were being evacuated from the towns of Izium, Kupiansk and Veliky Burluk. 

Ukraine this week claimed to have regained control of more than 20 settlements in the Kharkiv region, including the small city of Balakliya.

Social media posts showed weeping and smiling Balakliya residents embracing Ukrainian soldiers.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov on Friday refused to comment on the alleged retaking of Balakliya, redirecting all questions about it to the Russian Defence Ministry.

Ganchev confirmed Friday that “Balakliya, in effect, is not under our control.” He said that “tough battles” were continuing in the city and that Russian forces were attempting to expel Ukrainian troops.

WATCH | Surviving the relentless shelling of Mykolaiv, Ukraine:

Surviving months of shelling in Mykolaiv, Ukraine

Frequent shelling has driven out much of the population of Mykolaiv, Ukraine, a city on the country’s southern coast. Those who remain are surviving with the help of foreign aid. They say they are scared, but hopeful.

Ukraine’s National Guard on Friday also confirmed the recapture of Volokhiv Yar, a village 19 kilometres from Balakliya.

Ukraine’s presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak told Ukrainian television Friday that Ukrainian forces are trying to retake control of Kupianksk — a key city in the Kharkiv region through which Russian troops in the area are receiving all their supplies.

“It is a key transport hub which we need to retake and then see after that whether we should go north or a bit further down south, thus tearing apart this group of Russian troops” and preventing them from replenishing their stock of supplies, Podolyak said.

Helicopters and fighter jets streaked over the rolling plains of the Donetsk region, with the jets heading in the direction of Izium, near where Ukrainian forces have been carrying out a counteroffensive in the Kharkiv region. The jets fired out flares while black smoke billowed in the distance.

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