Ukraine, Russia Trade Blame for Risk of Nuclear Disaster at Frontline Plant

KYIV—Ukraine and Russia accused each other on Friday of risking nuclear disaster by shelling Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, controlled by Russian forces in a region expected to become one of the next big front lines of the war.

Western countries have called for Moscow to withdraw its troops from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, and the United Nations called on Thursday for it to be declared a demilitarised zone. But there has been no sign so far of Russia agreeing to move its troops out of the facility they seized in March.

The plant dominates the south bank of a vast reservoir on the Dnipro river that cuts across southern Ukraine. Ukrainian forces controlling the towns and cities on the opposite bank have come under bombardment from the Russian-held side.

Three people were wounded in overnight shelling of one of those towns, Marhanets, Valentyn Reznichenko, governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region, said in the latest in a string of similar reports.

Kyiv has claimed for weeks it is planning a counteroffensive to recapture Zaporizhzhia and neighboring Kherson Provinces, the largest part of the territory Russia seized after its Feb. 24 invasion still in Russian hands.

Ukraine’s Energoatom agency, whose workers still operate the plant under Russian control, said the power station was struck five times on Thursday, including near where radioactive materials are stored. Both sides blamed each other for the blasts and Reuters could not verify either account.

Russia says Ukraine is recklessly firing at the plant. Kyiv says Russian troops struck it themselves, and are also using the plant as a shield to provide cover while they bombard nearby Ukrainian-held towns and cities.

Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations Vasily Nebenzya attends a Security Council meeting at the UN headquarters in New York on Aug. 11, 2022. (Ed Jones/AFP via Getty Images)

The U.N. Security Council, where Russia wields a veto, met on Thursday to discuss the situation. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on both sides to stop all fighting near the plant.

“The facility must not be used as part of any military operation. Instead, urgent agreement is needed at a technical level on a safe perimeter of demilitarisation to ensure the safety of the area,” Guterres said in a statement.

At the Security Council meeting, the United States backed the call for a demilitarised zone and urged the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to visit the site.

Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said the world was being pushed “to the brink of nuclear catastrophe,” comparable in scale with the 1986 Chornobyl disaster in then-Soviet Ukraine. He said IAEA officials could visit the site as soon as this month.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy demanded Russia return the plant to Ukraine’s control.

The main Ukrainian front lines have been comparatively static in recent weeks, but fighting has been intensifying lately in anticipation of what Ukraine claims is a planned counter-offensive in the south.

Ukraine’s General Staff on Friday reported widespread shelling and air attacks by Russian forces on scores of towns and military bases, especially in the east where Russia is trying to expand territory held on behalf of separatist proxies.

Pavlo Kyrylenko, governor of the eastern Donetsk region, said on Telegram seven people had been killed and 14 wounded in the past 24 hours.

By Natalia Zinets