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Strikes at Ukraine nuclear plant prompt UN call for demilitarized zone

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© Reuters. Smoke rises after explosions are heard from the direction of a Russian military airbase near Novofedorivka, Crimea, in this still image obtained by Reuters August 9, 2022.

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By Tom Balmforth and Michelle Nichols

Russia and Ukraine accuse each other of shelling Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, raising fears of a disaster as the UN chief says a demilitarized zone needs to be built and Ukraine demands Russian forces withdrew from the area.

Ukraine’s Energoatom agency said the Zaporizhzhia complex in south-central Ukraine was attacked five times on Thursday, including near a radioactive substance. Russia’s TASS news agency reported that Russian-appointed officials said Ukraine shelled the factory twice, disrupting the restructuring process, Russia’s TASS news agency reported.

The United Nations Security Council met on Thursday to discuss the situation, and Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called on both sides to stop all fighting near the plant.

“This facility is not to be used as part of any military operation. Instead, there is an urgent need for technical agreement at the technical level of a safe demilitarized perimeter to ensure the safety of the site.” region,” Guterres said in a statement.

Russia occupied Zaporizhzhia in March after invading Ukraine on February 24. The factory, near the front lines in the fighting, is held by Russian troops and operated by Ukrainian workers.

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

UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia of Russia said the world was being pushed “to the brink of a nuclear disaster, comparable in scale to Chornobyl”. He said IAEA officials could visit the site as soon as this month.

Reuters was unable to independently verify reports from both sides about the situation at the plant.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy demanded that Russia return the factory to Ukraine’s control.

“Only a complete withdrawal … and the restoration of full Ukrainian control of the situation around the station can guarantee the resumption of nuclear security,” he said in a speech in a video. for the whole of Europe.

France objected to Zelenskiy’s request and said that Russia’s occupation of the site would endanger the world.

“The presence and actions of the Russian armed forces near the plant significantly increases the risk of an accident with potentially devastating consequences,” the French foreign ministry said in a statement.

Ukraine and Russia have blamed each other for the attacks on the site. Ukraine also accused Russia of firing rockets at Ukrainian towns from around the occupied nuclear power plant, knowing that returning fire was too risky for Ukrainian forces.

Ukraine’s General Staff on Friday reported widespread artillery and air strikes by Russian forces on many towns and military bases, especially in the east.

Valentyn Reznichenko, governor of the Dnipropentovsk region, said three civilians, including a boy, were wounded in the town of Marhanets in overnight shelling.

Pavlo Kyrylenko, governor of the Donetsk region, said on Telegram that seven civilians were killed and 14 injured in the past 24 hours.

RUSSIA FACILITIES IN CRIMEA

Separately, satellite photos released on Thursday show devastation at an airbase in Russia-annexed Crimea. Western military experts say Ukraine may have a new long-range strike capability with the potential to change the course of the war.

Images from independent satellite company Planet Labs show three almost identical craters where buildings at Russia’s Saki airbase were hit with apparent precision. The base, on the southwestern coast of Crimea, suffered severe fire damage with at least eight destroyed warplanes visible.

Russia denied the plane was damaged and said Tuesday’s explosions at the base were accidental. Ukraine has not yet claimed responsibility.

Referring to the damage, Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak told Reuters in a message: “Officially, we do not confirm or deny anything … note that there are several epicenters of the attacks. explosion at the same time.”

Zelenskiy asked officials to stop talking to reporters about military tactics, saying such remarks were “frankly irresponsible”. The New York Times and Washington Post, citing unnamed officials, said Ukrainian forces were responsible for the Crimea attack.

Russia, which occupied and annexed Crimea in 2014, uses the peninsula as a base for its Black Sea fleet and a major supply route for the invading forces occupying southern Ukraine, where Kyiv is planning counterattack in the coming weeks.

COUNTER-OFFENSIVE

The Institute for the Study of War said Ukrainian officials were treating the Crimean offensive as the start of a Ukrainian counter-offensive in the south, indicating intense fighting in the coming weeks.

Exactly how the attack on the base was carried out remains a mystery, but craters and simultaneous explosions suggest it was hit by a range of weapons capable of evading the system. Russian defense.

The base is out of range of the advanced missiles that Western countries admit to sending Ukraine, although within range of more powerful versions Kyiv is seeking. Ukraine also has anti-ship missiles that can be used to strike land targets.

Meanwhile, the US State Department said that Russian officials had been training in Iran in recent weeks as part of an agreement on the transfer of drones between the two countries.

US officials last month said Iran was preparing to supply Russia with up to several hundred drones.

Russia said its “special military operation” would be planned, aimed at protecting Russian-speaking people and separatist forces in the south and east. Ukraine and its Western allies say that Moscow aims to strengthen its grip on as much territory as possible.

Tens of thousands of people were killed, millions were displaced, and cities were destroyed.

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