Russian-held Ukrainian nuclear plant disconnected from grid, sign of peril from nearby clashes
KYIV — Ukraine’s Russian-held Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant was disconnected from the national grid on Thursday after nearby fires disrupted power lines – an event that highlighted the risk posed by fighting around Europe’s largest such facility.
State nuclear company Energoatom said fires broke out in the ash pits of a coal power station near the Zaporizhzhia reactor complex and interfered with lines linking the plant to the grid.
“As a result, the station’s two working power units were disconnected from the network,” Energoatom said in a statement.
“Thus, the actions of the invaders caused a complete disconnection…the first in the history of the plant.”
Russia, which invaded Ukraine in February, captured the Zaporizhzhia plant in March and has controlled it since, although Ukrainian technicians from Energoatom still operate it.
Russia and Ukraine have accused each other of shelling the site, fueling fears of the potential for a nuclear disaster.
Nuclear experts have warned of the risk of damage to the plant’s spent nuclear fuel pools or its reactors. Cuts in power needed to cool the pools to avoid a disastrous meltdown are another worry.
The United Nations is seeking access for its nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency and has called for the area to be demilitarized. IAEA officials are “very, very close” to being able to visit Zaporizhzhia, agency Director-General Rafael Grossi said on Thursday
As the war entered its seventh month, Russia said its forces had struck a railway station in eastern Ukraine the previous day, confirming an attack which Kyiv says also hit a residential area and killed 25 civilians as the nation marked its Independence Day.
The Russian Defence Ministry said an Iskander missile had hit a military train at Chaplyne station that had been set to deliver arms to Ukrainian forces on frontlines in the eastern Donbas region.
Ukrainian officials said 21 people were killed when the railway station was hit and five train carriages went up in flames, and a boy died when a missile struck his home in the vicinity. The death toll rose to 25 on Thursday after three more bodies were retrieved from rubble, they said.
The Russian ministry said 200 Ukrainian military personnel had died in the attack. Moscow denies targeting civilians and has said rail infrastructure is a legitimate target since it serves to supply Ukraine with Western weapons.
Reuters was unable to independently verify the reports.
But the United Nations humanitarian coordinator for Ukraine said she was shocked by the attack, and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said it “fits a pattern of atrocities.”
In Chaplyne, residents of the small town, located some 145 km (90 miles) west of Russian-occupied Donetsk, grieved for their loved ones amid the rubble of their homes.
Sergiy lost his 11-year-old son in the strike. “We looked for him there in the ruins, and he was lying here. Nobody knew that he was here. Nobody knew,” he said as he crouched next to his covered body.
NUCLEAR PLANT RISK
The fighting in the area around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station has been a source of concern for weeks.
The vast complex supplied more than 20% of Ukraine’s electricity needs and its loss would pile new strain on the government.
Energoatom said the plant was still being supplied with power from Ukraine’s energy system through a final power line between the plant and the coal power station.
The plant’s security systems were working normally and work was under way to reconnect one of the reactor blocks to the grid, it said. The power plant has six reactors in total.
Russia’s Novosti news agency reported safety systems at Zaporizhzhia were activated on Thursday after power cuts were reported across swathes of Russian-controlled territory.
WAR OF ATTRITION
Russia’s ground campaign has stalled in recent months after its troops were repelled from the capital Kyiv in the early weeks of the invasion, which kicked off on Feb. 24.
Russian forces control a swathe of territory in the south along Ukraine’s Black Sea and Sea of Azov coasts, while the conflict has settled into a war of attrition in the Donbas.
In its daily briefing, Russia’s Defence Ministry said it had destroyed eight Ukrainian warplanes in strikes at air bases in Ukraine’s Poltava and Dnipropetrovsk regions. That would be one of the heaviest losses for Ukraine’s air force in recent weeks.
Ukrainian regional authorities reported Russian missile strikes in the Khmelnytskyi area, west of Kyiv and hundreds of kilometers from frontlines. No damage or casualties were reported.
Kyiv has repeatedly called for more, high-grade Western military hardware it says it needs to repel Russian attacks.
In the Russian-occupied southern Kherson region, the Suspilne TV public broadcaster reported explosions near the Antonivskyi bridge across the Dnipro river, a major supply line for Russian troops.
Ukraine’s southern military command also reported missile strikes on the Nova Kakhovka dam on the Dnipro, another important Russian supply route.
Reuters could not verify these battlefield accounts.
In a move that might support Western estimates of heavy Russian losses during the war, President Vladimir Putin signed a decree on Thursday increasing the size of Russia’s armed forces to 2.04 million from 1.9 million.
At a U.N. Security Council session on Wednesday, Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia repeated that Moscow’s aim was “to denazify and demilitarize” Ukraine to remove “obvious” security threats to Russia.
Russia’s stance has been dismissed by Ukraine and the West as a baseless pretext for an war of conquest that has killed thousands of civilians, displaced millions and left cities in ruins. It has also shaken the global economy, creating shortages of essential foods and sending energy prices soaring.
(Reporting by Reuters bureaux; Writing by Tomasz Janowski and Angus MacSwan; Editing by Gareth Jones and Mark Heinrich)