Moscow and Kiev exchanged fresh accusations on Saturday about shelling around the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant in Ukraine, which has raised international concerns that fighting in the area could cause disaster.
Zaporizhzhya, Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, has been controlled by Russian troops since early March. Ukrainian personnel continue to operate it, and in recent weeks the two sides have blamed shelling near the factory.
Ukraine’s state-owned nuclear company Energoatom energy agency said Russian troops have again shelled the site of the factory complex in the past 24 hours.
“The damage is currently being assessed,” Energoatom wrote in a statement to Telegram.
Moscow’s defense ministry accused Ukrainian troops of shelling the factory complex three times in the past 24 hours.
Reuters was unable to verify the battlefield report.
“A total of 17 shells were fired, four of which hit the roof of Special Building No. 1, which stores 168 assemblies of US Westinghouse nuclear fuel,” the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement.
It said 10 shells exploded near a dry spent fuel storage facility and three more near a fresh fuel storage building. It said the radiation situation at the factory remained normal.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Friday the situation in Zaporizhzhya remained “highly risky” after two of the six reactors were reconnected to the grid after shelling that disconnected the nuclear power plant for the first time in its history.
Energoatom said Friday night that both of the plant’s two operating reactors had been reconnected to the grid and were supplying electricity again after being completely disconnected on Thursday.
The UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), wants to visit the plant in the south of the country, and agency chief Rafael Grossi said on Thursday it was “very, very close” to being able to send officials there.
Energoatom’s statement on Saturday said staff at the plant had come under “heightened pressure” ahead of the likely visit.
“The (Russians), preparing for the IAEA visit, have increased pressure on the personnel of the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant to conceal their testimonies about the crimes committed by the occupiers at the station and to use it as a military base ,” it said.
G7 foreign ministers have previously urged Russia to return the factory to Ukraine. Earlier this month, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said military equipment and personnel should be withdrawn from the factory and called for efforts to ensure it does not become the target of military operations.
The fighting continues
Ukraine’s armed forces said in a briefing note on Saturday morning that it had repulsed Russian attacks on three towns in the eastern region of Donetsk.
All three are on the approach to the larger city of Bakhmut, an important strategic outpost for Ukraine due to its size and road connections.
A separate Facebook post from Ukraine’s Southern Command said it had hit Russian air defense systems in the Kherson region with air strikes and that Ukrainian artillery had destroyed two Smerch MLRS systems.
The Russian ministry also said in its daily briefing that it had destroyed a large ammunition depot in Ukraine’s Dnipropetrovsk region, which contained US-made HIMARS missile systems and grenades for M777 Howitzers.
The Russian Air Force shot down a MiG-29 aircraft in the eastern region of Donetsk, the ministry said, destroying another six missile and artillery weapons depots in the Donetsk, Mykolaiv and Kherson regions.
Reuters was unable to verify those accounts.