Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Strikes at Ukraine nuclear plant prompt UN chief to call for demilitarised zone

Strikes at Ukraine nuclear plant prompt UN chief to call for demilitarised zone

KYIV/NEW YORK (Reuters) - Russia and Ukraine accused each other of shelling Europe's biggest nuclear power plant as the UN chief proposed a demilitarised zone at the site amid fears of a catastrophe.

Ukraine's Energoatom agency said the Zaporizhzhia complex was struck five times on Thursday, including near where radioactive materials are stored. Russian-appointed officials said Ukraine shelled the plant twice, disrupting a shift changeover, Russia's TASS news agency said.

The UN Security Council met on Thursday to discuss the situation. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on both sides to halt all fighting near the plant.

"The facility must not be used as part of any military operation. Instead, urgent agreement is needed at a technical level on a safe perimeter of demilitarisation to ensure the safety of the area," Guterres said in a statement.

Russia seized Zaporizhzhia in March after invading Ukraine on Feb. 24. The plant, near the front line in the fighting, is held by Russian troops and operated by Ukrainian workers.

At the Security Council meeting, the United States backed the call for a demilitarised zone and urged the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to visit the site.

Russia's UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said the world was being pushed "to the brink of nuclear catastrophe, comparable in scale with Chornobyl." He said IAEA officials could visit the site as soon as this month.

Reuters could not independently verify the reports from either side about circumstances at the plant.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy demanded Russia return the plant to Ukraine's control.

"Only a full withdrawal of the Russians ... and the restoration of full Ukrainian control of the situation around the station can guarantee a resumption of nuclear security for all of Europe," he said in a video address.

France echoed Zelenskiy's demand and said Russia's occupation of the site endangered the world.

"The presence and actions of the Russian armed forces near the plant significantly increase the risk of an accident with potentially devastating consequences," the French foreign ministry said in a statement.

Kyiv and Moscow have previously blamed each other for attacks on the site. Ukraine has also accused Russia of firing rockets at Ukrainian towns from around the captured nuclear power plant in the knowledge it would be risky for Ukraine to return fire.

Ukraine's General Staff on Friday reported widespread shelling and air attacks by Russian forces on scores of towns and military bases, especially in the east.

"The enemy is trying to make up for the loss of personnel and equipment," the General Staff said in a statement.