KYIV: Shelling hit a high-voltage power line yesterday at a major Ukrainian nuclear power station captured by Russia, prompting the plant’s operators to disconnect a reactor despite no radioactive leak being detected.
Ukraine’s state nuclear power company Energoatom blamed Russia for the damage at the Zaporizhzhia power station, Europe’s largest. Earlier this week, the United Nations nuclear watchdog appealed for access to the plant, which Washington says Russia is using as a battlefield shield.
The Russian-installed administration of the nearby occupied city of Enerhodar said Ukrainian artillery fire had cut the lines at the plant, which was captured by Russian forces in early March in the opening stage of the war.
It was not the first time that military action has caused alarm at Zaporizhzhia, where the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency had at times reported losing connection with surveillance systems that keep track of nuclear material.
The administration said in a statement fire had broken out and that power necessary for the safe functioning of reactors had been cut off. The plant continues to be run by its Ukrainian technicians.
Energoatom said the plant, located about 200km northwest of the Russian-held port of Mariupol in southeast Ukraine, was still operational and no radioactive discharges had been detected.
A decision had been taken to disconnect one reactor from the network because of damage to a 330 kilowatt high-voltage power distribution line linking the plant to the thermal power station, it said.
Further east, both sides claimed small advances while Russian artillery bombarded towns and villages across a wide area in a now-familiar tactic.
Ground fighting appeared to be most intense around Pisky in Donetsk region, a fortified village held by Ukrainian troops and close to Donetsk city, which is in the hands of Russian-backed separatist forces.
The Russians also have the cities of Bakhmut and Avdiivka in their sights as they try to gain full control of the eastern Donbas area, Ukraine’s industrial heartland.
In other developments, three grain ships left Ukrainian ports yesterday and the first inbound cargo vessel since the Russian invasion was due in Ukraine to load, marking further steps in the Kyiv government’s efforts to resuscitate its economy after five months of war.
Russian President Vladmir Putin meanwhile was meeting Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, who is cultivating a role as a mediator in the war, in the Russian city of Sochi.
“The international community cannot end the war in Ukraine by ignoring Russia,” said Fahrettin Altun, a top aide to Erdogan.
Turkey helped negotiate the agreement that on Monday saw the first grain ship leave a Ukrainian port for foreign markets since the Russian invasion on February 24.
Yesterday, two grain ships set off from Chornomorsk and one from Odesa carrying a total of about 58,000 tonnes of corn, the Turkish defence ministry said.
The Turkish bulk carrier Osprey S, flying the flag of Liberia, was expected to arrive in Chornomorsk to load up with grain, the Odesa regional administration said.
Russia and Ukraine normally produce about one third of the world’s wheat, and the United Nations had warned that the halt in grain shipments through the Russian-dominated Black Sea could lead to famine in other countries, particularly in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
The US’ ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield yesterday said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will cause 40 million people to become food insecure and that sub-Saharan Africa will be hardest hit.
Ukraine’s Seaport Authority said 68 ships were berthed in Ukrainian ports with 1.2 million tonnes of cargo on board, two thirds of it food.
Moscow is trying to gain control of the largely Russian-speaking Donbas, comprised of Luhansk and Donetsk provinces, where pro-Moscow separatists seized territory after the Kremlin annexed Crimea to the south in 2014.
Russia’s TASS news agency cited separatist forces as saying they and Russian troops had taken full control of Pisky.
But Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said: “There is very little evidence of any movement here. They (the Russians) made an attempt to advance but it was unsuccessful.”
TASS also said fighting was taking place in the city of Bakhmut, north of Donetsk and Russia’s next main target.
Meanwhile, the US administration’s next security assistance package for Ukraine is expected to be $1 billion, one of the largest so far, and include munitions for long-range weapons and armored medical transport vehicles.