The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) says agency officials must be allowed to inspect the Zaporizhzhya nuclear plant in Ukraine after fighting near the site.
“This is a serious hour, a grave hour and the IAEA must be allowed to conduct its mission to Zaporizhzhya as soon as possible,” IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi told an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council on August 11.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy also warned about the situation at the nuclear power plant, saying it is of global interest.
No other country has used a nuclear plant “so obviously to threaten the whole world,” he said in his nightly video address on August 11. “Absolutely everyone in the world should react immediately to expel the occupiers from the Zaporizhzhya [nuclear power plant].”
He said only the Russians’ full withdrawal would guarantee nuclear safety for all of Europe.
A U.S. State Department official told the Security Council that Washington supports the idea of an IAEA mission to Ukraine.
“This visit cannot wait any longer,” Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security Bonnie Jenkins said, calling for Russia to immediately withdraw its forces from Ukraine’s territory.
“This would allow for Ukraine to restore the impeccable safety, security, and safeguards performance it upheld for decades at the facility,” Jenkins said.
Russian UN Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya put the blame for fighting at and near Zaporizhzhya on Ukrainian forces.
“We call on states that support the Kyiv regime to bring their proxies into check to compel them to immediately and once and for all stop attacks on Zaporizhzhya nuclear power [plant] to ensure the safe conditions for the conduct of the IAEA mission,” Nebenzya told the Council.
“This is the only way to prevent a major radioactive catastrophe on the European continent, the risk of which is now more real than ever,” Nebenzya added. “If Ukrainian Armed Forces attacks continue, this could take place at any time.”
The two sides traded blame earlier on August 11 over a recent escalation in fighting on the nuclear facility’s premises.
Ukraine’s state energy company said the plant was shelled again by Russian forces, while the Russia-backed local administration said Ukrainian forces were to blame.
There were no injuries and the situation at the plant was under control. Enerhoatom added in its statement posted on Telegram that reports that workers fled the plant in panic were “fake and manipulative.”
The Russia-backed local administration said it was Ukrainian rocket fire that struck the plant.
“Zelenskiy’s militants once again struck the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant and territory near the nuclear facility,” said Vladimir Rogov, a member of the Moscow-installed regional administration, referring to the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
Neither side’s claims could be independently verified.
The Zaporizhzhya plant, which was captured by Russian forces in the opening stages of the war, was hit by shelling last weekend, which also prompted the two sides to trade blame.
Heavy fighting was reported earlier on August 11 around the eastern Ukrainian town of Pisky, some 10 kilometers northwest of the city of Donetsk.
“It is hot in Pisky,” wrote Danil Bezsonov, a member of a Russia-backed separatist group that calls itself the Donetsk People’s Republic, on Telegram early on August 11. “The town is ours, but there remain scattered pockets of resistance in its north and west.”
Ukrainian officials said their troops were still control the town. Presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said in an interview that Russian forces had tried to move into Pisky “without success.”
Neither report could be independently verified.
After forcibly annexing Ukraine’s Crimea region in 2014, Moscow fomented separatist movements in parts of eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions, collectively known as the Donbas.
The Kyiv-backed governor of the Luhansk region, Serhiy Hayday, said in an interview on August 10 that Russia had boosted its forces in the area, including by sending in a large number of mercenaries from the Vagner group, a private security company with close ties to the Kremlin.
Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk predicted on August 11 that more mandatory evacuations would be ordered for a number of areas affected by fighting.
Vereshchuk reported that, as of August 11, 3,908 people were evacuated from the Donetsk region, including 777 children.
She said mandatory evacuations had been carried out for the first time and it is likely they will take place in other regions.
“We see now the deterioration of the situation. And with the beginning of the autumn-winter heating period, it will definitely worsen” as it becomes more difficult to provide heating, she said during a briefing.
Zelenskiy said last month that hundreds of thousands of people were still living in areas of Donbas where fighting has been intense.
With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and AP
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