Ukraine and Russia accuse each other of plotting to attack nuclear plants

KYIV, Ukraine – Tensions around the nuclear power plant on the front lines of the war in Ukraine escalated sharply on Thursday, as Russian and Ukrainian militaries traded allegations that each side was preparing to attack the plant in the past few days. next day, there is a risk of causing a radioactive disaster.

The Russian Defense Ministry announced that the Ukrainian military was preparing a “terrorist attack” on the vast Zaporizhzhia power plant complex on the Dnipro River, prompting the Ukrainian military intelligence agency to react that the Russian warning is in fact an excuse for Moscow to take action. some “provocation” there on Friday.

Invading Russian forces took control of the plant, Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, in early March and placed it under the control of Rosatom, the Russian state nuclear company. But they kept Ukrainian staff there to operate it.

On Thursday, Ukraine’s intelligence service said that Rosatom’s engineers had “urgently” left the plant and that only “operating staff” were allowed to visit the plant on Friday.

“All other employees will be closed,” it said.

An employee at the factory, contacted by The New York Times through a colleague in Kyiv, said the workers were panicking.

“The situation is terrible, everyone is scared about tomorrow’s provocations announced by Russia,” said the person, who asked not to be named, out of fear for her safety. “The Russian Defense Ministry said it expected provocations from Ukraine, but we fully understand what that means. Even more people are trying to leave.”

Fears of a possible attack came even as the United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, held talks in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv with the presidents of Ukraine and Turkey. in an effort to defuse military tension around the site and restart diplomatic operations. to end a war that lasted nearly six months. UN nuclear regulators have begged for access to the plant to ensure its safety.

For the first time in history, the invasion of Ukraine by order of Russian President V. Putin placed nuclear power plants right in the war zone. For many Ukrainians, the risk is familiar: The Chernobyl plant, the site of the world’s worst nuclear accident in 1986, is located in Ukraine, north of the capital Kyiv. Russian forces also occupied that plant early in the war before withdrawing.

The Zaporizhzhia complex was shelled several times, each side blaming the other, noting that just one erroneous projectile hitting the right spot could cause disaster. Russian military units have occupied positions on and around the base, prompting accusations that they are using it as a shield, able to transport artillery shells and missiles through Dnipro knowing that Ukraine reluctantly returned fire.

“The world is on the brink of nuclear disaster due to the occupation of the world’s third largest nuclear power plant in Energodar, Zaporizhzhia region,” said President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine. Written on Twitter on Thursday. “How long will it take for the global community to react to Russia’s irresponsible actions and nuclear blackmail?”

Speaking at a news conference after the Lviv talks, Mr Guterres called on Moscow and Kyiv to show a “spirit of compromise” that led to an agreement last month allowing Ukraine’s grain exports to continue flowing from ports. Black Sea, alleviating global food shortage.

Mr. Guterres said: “From day one, the parties worked professionally and in good faith to keep the food flowing. “I call on this to continue and let them overcome all obstacles in a spirit of compromise and permanently resolve all differences.”

Guterres said he was very concerned about the Zaporizhzhia power plant and called for the establishment of a demilitarized zone around the site – an idea the Russian Foreign Ministry rejected on Thursday. He acknowledged the complex problems involved but blamed neither side for the persistent shelling there.

“We have to say it – any potential damage to Zaporizhzhia is suicidal,” Mr. Guterres said. repeat comment he did earlier this month. He added that an urgent agreement is needed to re-establish the plant as a purely civilian-run facility.

United Nations officials have warned of the risks the fighting poses to the plant and its six reactors. Rafael Mariano Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told the United Nations Security Council last week the situation deteriorated “to a very alarming level.”

What we consider before using anonymous sources.
How do sources know the information? What is their motivation to tell us? Have they proven reliable in the past? Can we verify the information? Even if these questions are satisfied, The Times still uses anonymous sources as a last resort. Reporters and at least one editor know the source’s identity.

Uncertainty around factory security is highlighted by a video circulating online on Thursday, showed at least five military trucks clearly inside one of the complex’s buildings. Using archival photographs of the interiors of various facilities on the nuclear complex’s premises, The Times determined that the video was shot inside the engine room of one of the plant’s reactors. .

Why Russia has placed military vehicles so close to the reactor remains unclear. The reactors themselves are heavily fortified.

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister, Dmytro Kuleba, said on Thursday that Grossi had accepted Ukraine’s invitation to lead a delegation to the plant. “I emphasize the urgency of the mission to address the nuclear security threats posed by Russia’s hostile actions,” Kuleba wrote on Twitter.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken say on Twitter that he talked to Mr. Kuleba about “our current concerns” in Zaporizhzhia.

But whatever Ukrainian officials say, it is the Russians who own the plant and it is not clear that a visit by the international nuclear agency can be organized amid the fighting. Russia has expressed support for There is international monitoring of the site, but Ukraine has until recently indicated reluctance, possibly out of concern that such a visit could somehow legitimize Russia’s occupation there.

Speaking on Thursday at a summit in Lviv, Mr Zelensky stressed that there could be no agreement to protect the plant unless Russia withdrew its forces from the complex.

Zelensky recalled that earlier in the day, when President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey said the grain deal had shown the path to possible peace talks, he responded: “No There is no trust in the Russians who raped and fired and fired cruise missiles at the Ukrainians. . “

“First, they have to liberate all of our territory and then we will look,” he added.

However, Russia continues to attack Ukrainian cities and towns with attacks. On Wednesday night and Thursday morning, a barrage of rockets hit the city of Kharkiv, in the northeastern part of the country, destroying a dormitory for the deaf and elderly, shredding several houses and killing them. at least 15 civilians, Ukrainian officials said.

The death toll in the city during the six-month war has now surpassed 1,000, according to local officials.

“Last night turned out to be one of the most tragic for the Kharkiv Region in the entire war,” the area manager, Oleh Syniehubov, said on Thursday morning. Rescue teams are still racing between blast sites, he said, adding that the number of casualties could rise.

The Russian Defense Ministry said it had struck a target in Kharkiv, home to foreign mercenaries, but offered no evidence to support this claim.

The attacks began around 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, when a Russian cruise missile crashed into a dormitory housing the elderly and the deaf, according to Ukrainian officials. At least 10 civilians were killed and 17 others were injured, including an 11-year-old child.

Ukrainian officials said that, because some of the people living in the building are deaf, they may not hear the groans when the missile warning is coming, or Firefighters’ screams calling for survivors.

Video of rescue efforts showed relatives of those inside a destroyed building screaming, crying and calling for loved ones. “My grandmother is there,” one man shouted. There has been no response.

Marc Santora reported from Kyiv, Ukraine and Thomas Gibbons-Neff from Lviv, Ukraine. Report contributed by Michael Levenson and Christiaan Triebert from New York, Dan Bilefsky from Montreal, Elif Ince from Istanbul and Natalia Yermak from Lviv.

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