Ukraine’s and Europe’s largest nuclear plant was once again knocked offline in the early hours of Saturday amid sustained shelling that destroyed a key power line and penetrated deep into the plant’s premises, local Russian-backed authorities said.
The claims came barely a day after a team of inspectors from the UN nuclear agency arrived at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which has been caught in fierce recent fighting between Ukrainian and Russian forces, six months after the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, ordered his troops to invade Ukraine.
The IAEA’s mission is meant to help secure the site as Moscow and Kyiv trade blame for shelling at and around the nuclear plant.
“The Dneprovskaya power line has been hit. The nuclear power plant has switched to servicing its own needs,” Vladimir Rogov, a member of the Kremlin-appointed regional administration, wrote on Telegram, adding that a shell had struck an area between two reactors. His claims could not be immediately verified.
Late on Friday evening, the Russian-backed authorities reported that the plant had been under fire for about two hours, blaming Ukrainian forces in the latest of a series of similar claims.
As of Saturday morning, neither the Ukrainian government nor the country’s nuclear energy operator, Enerhoatom, had commented on these allegations.
The plant has repeatedly suffered complete disconnection from Ukraine’s power grid since last week, with Enerhoatom blaming mortar shelling and fires near the site.
Local Ukrainian authorities accused Moscow of pounding two cities that overlook the plant across the Dnieper river with rockets, also an accusation they have made repeatedly over recent weeks.
In Zorya, a small village about 20km (12 miles) from the Zaporizhzhia plant, residents on Friday could hear the sound of explosions in the area. It was not the shelling that scared them the most, but the risk of a radioactive leak in the plant.
“The power plant, yes, this is the scariest,” said Natalia Stokoz, a mother of three. “Because the kids and adults will be affected, and it’s scary if the nuclear power plant is blown up.”
Oleksandr Pasko, a 31-year-old farmer, said: “There is anxiety because we are quite close.” Pasko said that the Russian shelling has intensified in recent weeks.
During the first weeks of the war, authorities gave iodine tablets and masks to people living near the plant in case of radiation exposure. Recently, they have also distributed iodine pills in Zaporizhzhia city, about 50km (31 miles) from the plant.
Local officials on Saturday reported Russian forces shelling and launching missile attacks on residential areas in Ukraine’s east and north-east.
The governor of the eastern Donetsk oblast, the site of some of the fiercest clashes in recent weeks, said that two civilians had died and three more were injured on Friday. Pavlo Kyrylenko said in a Telegram post that casualties included one person killed in the strategic town of Zaitseve, where fighting continued for much of Friday as Russian forces tried to press deeper into Ukrainian-held territory and approach the key city of Bakhmut.
In the north-eastern Kharkiv region, home to Ukraine’s second-largest city, governor Oleh Syniehubov said six civilians were taken to hospital overnight due to Russian shelling.