UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on Monday for international inspectors to be given access to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant after Ukraine and Russia traded accusations over the shelling of Europe’s largest atomic plant at the weekend.
“Any attack to a nuclear plant is a suicidal thing,” Guterres told a news conference in Japan, where he attended the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony on Saturday to commemorate the 77th anniversary of the world’s first atomic bombing.
Ukraine said renewed Russian shelling on Saturday had damaged three radiation sensors and hurt a worker at the Zaporizhzhia power plant, the second hit in consecutive days on the site.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy accused Russia of waging “nuclear terror” that warranted more international sanctions, this time on Moscow’s nuclear sector.
“There is no such nation in the world that could feel safe when a terrorist state fires at a nuclear plant,” Zelenskiy said in a televised address on Sunday.
Russian forces captured the plant in southeastern Ukraine in early March but it is still run by Ukrainian technicians.
The Russian-installed authority of the area said Ukrainian forces hit the site with a multiple rocket launcher, damaging administrative buildings and an area near a storage facility. The Russian embassy in Washington also released a statement itemising the damage.
“Ukrainian nationalists launched an artillery strike on the territory of the specified object on Aug. 5. Two high-voltage power lines and a water pipeline were damaged as a result of the shelling. Only thanks to the effective and timely actions of the Russian military in covering the nuclear power facility, its critical infrastructure was not affected,” the embassy said.
Reuters could not verify either side’s version.
Events at the Zaporizhzhia site – where Kyiv alleged that Russia hit a power line on Friday – have alarmed the world.
Guterres said the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) needed access to the plant.
“We fully support the IAEA in all their efforts in relation to create the conditions of stabilisation of the plant,” Guterres said.
IAEA chief Rafael Mariano Grossi warned on Saturday that the latest attack “underlines the very real risk of a nuclear disaster”.
Elsewhere, a deal to unblock Ukraine’s food exports and ease global shortages gathered pace as another four ships sailed out of Ukrainian Black Sea ports while the first cargo vessel since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion docked.
The four outgoing ships had almost 170,000 tonnes of corn and other food. They were sailing under a deal brokered by the United Nations and Turkey to try to help ease soaring global food prices that have resulted from the war.
Before Moscow’s Feb. 24 invasion, which Russian President Vladimir Putin calls a “special military operation”, Russia and Ukraine together accounted for nearly a third of global wheat exports. The disruption since then has threatened famine in some parts of the world.
Battle for Donbas
Putin’s troops are trying to gain full control of the Donbas region of east Ukraine where pro-Moscow separatists seized territory after the Kremlin annexed Crimea to the south in 2014.
“Ukrainian soldiers are firmly holding the defence, inflicting losses on the enemy and are ready for any changes in the operational situation,” Ukraine’s general staff said in an update on Monday.
Russian forces stepped up their attacks north and northwest of Donetsk city in the Donbas on Sunday, Ukraine’s military said. The Russians attacked Ukrainian positions near the heavily fortified settlements of Piski and Avdiivka, as well as shelling other locations in the Donetsk region, it said.
In addition to tightening its grip over the Donbas, Russia is entrenching its position in southern Ukraine, where it has gathered troops in a bid to prevent a potential counter-offensive near Kherson, Kyiv has said.
As the fighting rages, Russians installed in the wake of Moscow’s invasion have toyed with the idea of joining Ukraine’s occupied territory to Russia. Last month, a senior pro-Russian official said a referendum on such a move was likely “towards next year.”
Zelenskiy said any “pseudo-referendums” on occupied areas of his country joining Russia would eliminate the possibility of talks between Moscow and its Ukrainian counterparts or their allies.
“They will close for themselves any change of talks with Ukraine and the free world which the Russian side will clearly need at some point,” he said.
Ukraine’s chief war crimes prosecutor on Sunday said almost 26,000 suspected war crimes committed since the invasion were being investigated, with 135 people charged, of whom 15 were in custody. Russia denies targeting civilians.
Shelling and missile strikes were reported overnight in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv and around military sites in the western region of Vinnitsya, among other places, Ukrainian authorities said. There was no immediate word on casualties.