Heavy fighting erupted in areas near the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station in Ukraine after Kyiv warned it might have to shut down the plant to avoid a radiation disaster.
The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said in its daily update on Thursday that some villages near the plant were bombed over the past 24 hours by “tanks, mortars, barrel and jet artillery”.
Overnight, Russian forces fired rockets and heavy artillery into the nearby town of Nikopol four times, the area’s regional governor, Valentyn Reznichenko, wrote on Telegram, damaging at least 11 houses and other buildings.
On Wednesday, an official said the nuclear plant may have to be shut down and called on residents in areas near the embattled facility to evacuate for their own safety.
Russia and Ukraine have blamed each other for shelling that has occurred close to the plant and within its perimeter, risking nuclear catastrophe. Russian forces took over the plant soon after their February 24 invasion of Ukraine but Ukrainian technicians still operate the power station.
‘Terrorise the population’
Mykola Lukashuk, head of the Dnipropetrovsk region council, said on the Telegram channel that Russian forces were shelling Nikopol from the direction of Enerhodar – the main town serving the Zaporizhzhia plant.
“The occupiers are deliberately shelling civilian objects in order to terrorise the population,” Lukashuk said.
Yevhen Balytskyi, head of the pro-Russian administration of the Zaporizhzhia region, said on Wednesday the Zaporizhzhia plant may be closed because of constant Ukraine artillery fire.
“There is a high probability that we will be forced to shut down the nuclear plant … because its operation in these conditions is impossible. We have not fully resolved this issue, but we will have to make such a decision,” Balytskyi said.
On Thursday, the Russian state TASS news agency reported, citing a Moscow-installed head of the Enerhodar administration Alexander Volga, that Ukraine forces have not been striking the plant with artillery.
“No cannon artillery strikes were observed at the [plant] but drones periodically fly in,” it quoted Volga as saying. “Projectiles have been dropped from UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] on the territory of the plant itself for the past two days.”