Russian troops have taken control of Europe’s biggest nuclear plant after a fire broke out at the site on Friday amid heavy shelling.
Russian forces have reportedly entered the site of a Ukrainian nuclear power plant that caught fire overnight during clashes.
“The territory of the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant is occupied by the armed forces of the Russian Federation,” the agency said of the site in Zaporizhzhia, Europe’s largest.
The statement said Ukrainian plant staff were continuing to operate the reactor and supply power according to normal safety rules.
Earlier, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russia of “nuclear terror” and seeking to “repeat” Chernobyl in the aftermath of the blaze, which was later extinguished.
“Russian tanks, equipped with thermal imagery, are shooting at the atomic blocks. They know what they are shooting at. They’ve been preparing for this (attack),” Zelensky said.
The country’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba also warned that if the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant “blows up it will be 10 times larger than Chernobyl”.
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Despite facing stiff resistance and logistical issues, Russian forces have made steady gains, capturing their first major city of Kherson on Wednesday as they seek to “cut Ukraine in two” and surround the capital Kyiv.
Ukrainian and Western officials have accused Russian forces of targeting civilian infrastructure and residential areas with heavy shelling and air strikes. The State Emergency Service says more than 2000 civilians have died since the Russian invasion, although the numbers cannot be independently verified.
Russian forces are also pushing towards Mykolaiv, a port city in Ukraine’s south crucial to the control of the Black Sea coast, as the United Nations confirm one million refugees have fled the nation in a week.
Read on for the latest updates.
Russian troops seize Europe’s largest nuclear power plant
Russian forces have taken over Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhia after a long night of firefights.
Dmitry Orlov, the mayor of nearby town Energodar, said a convoy of Russian armored vehicles had driven through the town on Thursday afternoon and opened fire.
“One out of six power units is working,” the local authority in charge of the plant wrote on Facebook.
“Currently the site of Zaporizhzhya NPP is captured by military forces of the Russian Federation. All over the territory of Zaporizhzhya region, the situation is tense and difficult.
“The actions of the Russian occupation forces are a direct violation of the Gaza and Geneva convention.”
Horror footage of widespread destruction in under-siege Kharkiv
Ukraine’s second-largest city is in ruins after several days of Russian bombardment.
Local research director Maria Avdeeva, who has remained in the city despite days of carnage, took to Twitter to share chilling footage of the damage done to her hometown.
“Putin this minute at a Security Council meeting: Russians and Ukrainians are one people, I will never refuse this. At the same time – Russian speaking city Kharkiv is cynically destroyed by Russian bombs,” Ms Avdeeva wrote.
The mayor of Kharkiv, in Ukraine’s east, accused the Russian military of “intentionally trying to eliminate Ukrainian people” as it continues to fire on residential buildings.
“The situation is extremely difficult,” Mayor Ihor Terekhov told CNN on Friday.
“To date, Kharkiv has been hard impacted by continuous bombardment. Planes are flying constantly, (rockets) are being launched, grenades are launched, and residential houses are being hit.”
Mr Terekhov said there were no Ukrainian troops guarding residential blocks.
“That means that they are purposefully hitting the residential buildings,” he said.
Ukrainian authorities said residential and other areas in Kharkiv had been “pounded all night” by indiscriminate shelling, which UN prosecutors are investigating as a possible war crime.
Russia considering ‘public executions’ to break Ukrainian morale
Russia is allegedly considering carrying out public executions in order to break Ukrainian morale.
Bloomberg, citing a European intelligence official, reports that Moscow has drawn up plans to discourage resistance when cities fall under its control.
“That strategy includes crackdowns on protests, detention of opponents, and potentially carrying out public executions, the official said on the condition of anonymity,” Bloomberg reported.
The Federal Security Service, Russia’s intelligence agency, is said to be ready to carry out summary justice if its invasion is a success, The Sun reports.
Vladimir Putin is a former chief of the FSB, the main successor of the Societ Union’s feared KGB.
Key political leaders from the Ukrainian administration are likely to be targeted.
The agency is also planning to detain rebel leaders and ruthlessly suppress public protests, a security official who has seen intercepted FSB reports told Bloomberg.
Ukraine’s national security secretary has already revealed that the country recently foiled a plot by the FSB to assassinate President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Mr Putin’s invasion has been hampered by fierce resistance both from the Ukrainian military and volunteer forces.
It comes after Ukrainian special forces copped criticism for suggesting that they would execute Russian artillerymen even if they surrender in retaliation for the “brutal shelling” of civilians.
“Each and every gun crew … will be slaughtered like pigs,” the Ukrainian Special Operations Force’s verified Facebook page wrote, according to a translation. “From now on, there will be no more captured Russian artillery. No mercy, no ‘please don’t kill, I surrender’ will be getting away.”
MSNBC host Chris Hayes wrote on Twitter, “Yeah this is just … announcing an intention to do war crimes.”
‘Ready for war’: Russia advances on crucial port city in Ukraine’s south
Russian forces are moving north-west from the captured city of Kherson to Mykolaiv in Ukraine’s south in a bid to gain control of the Black Sea coast.
Mayor of Mykolaiv, Oleksandr Senkevych, claimed roughly 800 Russian vehicles were closing in from the north, east and south on Thursday but warned the city was “ready for war”.
The ethnically diverse city, which has a population of 475,000 and is nicknamed the City of Shipbuilders, is considered a critical strategic point due to its proximity to the Black Sea and major port city of Odessa.
“Mykolaiv is key on the way to Odessa,” Dr Orysia Lutsevych, the head of London-based policy institute the Ukraine Forum, told the NY Times.
“Ukraine’s Black Sea life is being threatened at the moment and Mykolaiv is a puzzle piece in that.
“Kherson and Mykolaiv have felt under pressure since the annexation of Crimea in 2014 by the possibility of the land bridge.”
Situation at Ukrainian nuclear plant ‘secured’, authorities say
Ukrainian authorities say the safety of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant is now secured, after a fire broke out Friday when the station came under fire from invading Russian forces.
“The director of the plant said that the nuclear safety is now guaranteed,” Oleksandr Starukh, head of the military administration of the Zaporizhzhia region, said on Facebook.
“According to those responsible for the plant, a training building and a laboratory were affected by the fire.”
The International Atomic Energy Agency wrote on Twitter, “Ukraine tells IAEA that fire at site of Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant has not affected ‘essential’ equipment, plant personnel taking mitigatory actions.”
Fire breaks out at nuclear power plant amid Russian shelling
Europe’s largest nuclear power plant is on fire after an attack by Russian troops invading Ukraine, a plant spokesman said Friday.
“As a result of shelling by Russian forces on the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, a fire broke out,” spokesman Andrei Tuz said in a video posted on the plant’s Telegram account.
“We demand that they stop the heavy weapons fire. There is a real threat of nuclear danger in the biggest atomic energy station in Europe.”
Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba wrote on Twitter, “Russian army is firing from all sides upon Zaporizhzhia NPP, the largest nuclear power plant in Europe. Fire has already broke out. If it blows up, it will be 10 times larger than Chornobyl! Russians must IMMEDIATELY cease the fire, allow firefighters, establish a security zone!”
The International Atomic Energy Agency said in a statement that it was “aware of reports of shelling” at the plant and was “in contact with Ukrainian authorities about situation”.
IAEA director general Rafael Mariano Grossi has spoken with Ukraine’s Prime Minister Denys Shmygal and the country’s nuclear regulator and operator about the “serious situation”, appealing for a “halt of use of force” and warning of “severe danger if reactors (are) hit”.
In a subsequent update, the IAEA said it had been informed by Ukraine’s regulator that “there has been no change reported in radiation levels at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant site”.
US media reported on Thursday night that President Joe Biden had spoken with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky about the situation.
Mr Zelensky confirmed the talks with Mr Biden and other world leaders in an early-morning video message, accusing Russia of “nuclear terror” and wanting to “repeat” Chernobyl.
“No country other than Russia has ever fired on nuclear power units,” he said. “This is the first time in our history. In the history of mankind. The terrorist state now resorted to nuclear terror.”
Some nuclear experts have sought to calm fears of an explosion at the plant.
“None of the reactors at Zaporizhzhia is likely to explode in the way Chernobyl did,” retired nuclear scientist Cheryl Rofer wrote on Twitter, noting they are “a totally different kind of reactor” than Chernobyl #4 which “had a particular flaw that led to its explosion”.
“But Russians must move away from the plant,” she added. “A firefight around the administrative buildings is a very bad idea.”
US Senator Marco Rubio noted that like most nuclear plants, “the one in Ukraine under attack is built to withstand a direct hit from an airplane crash”.
“The problem is a loss of power or a shell draining the pools used to store spent fuel,” he wrote. “If that fuel isn’t cooled it can melt and release large amounts of radioactivity.”
Biden weighs sanctions against India after UN vote
US President Joe Biden is considering whether to apply sanctions against India after the country sparked “widespread disgust” for choosing to abstain from a United Nations vote on Wednesday condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The UN General Assembly resolution passed with 141 nations voting in favour, five against and 35 countries including India and China abstaining. Russia is one of India’s main suppliers of arms and ammunition.
Politico reported there was “widespread disgust amongst Western leaders at Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi over his support for Putin”.
Speaking to US lawmakers on Thursday, senior administration official Donald Lu, the Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian affairs, said Mr Biden would decide whether to apply or waive sanctions against India under the Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which requires the US to impose sanctions on any country that has significant transactions with Iran, North Korea or Russia.
The sanctions would relate to India’s purchase of the S-400 missile defence system from Russia, according to Indian broadcaster NDTV.
“It’s a question we’re looking at very closely, as the administration is looking at the broader question over whether to apply sanctions under CAATSA or to waive those sanctions,” Mr Lu said.
“I can assure you that the administration will follow the CAATSA law and fully implement that law and will consult with Congress as we move forward with any of them. What unfortunately I am not able to say is to prejudge the decisions of the President or the (Secretary of State) on the waiver issue or on the sanctions issue, or whether Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will bear on that decision.”
He added, “India is a really important security partner of ours now. And that we value moving forward that partnership and I hope that part of what happens with the extreme criticism that Russia has faced is that India will find it‘s now time to further distances.”
Mr Lu said it would be hard for any country moving forward to buy weapons from Russia. “What we’ve seen from India in just the last few weeks, is the cancellation of MiG 29 orders, Russian helicopter orders and antitank weapon orders,” he said.
‘The end of the world has arrived’: Zelensky
Volodymyr Zelensky has accused the West of acting too late to protect his country from Russia’s invasion, saying “the end of the world has arrived”.
Speaking during a press conference on Thursday, the Ukrainian President called on the West to increase military aid to Ukraine, saying Russia would advance on the rest of Europe otherwise.
He repeated his plea for NATO to enforce a no-fly zone – something members including the US and UK have ruled out for fear of igniting a direct war with nuclear-armed Russia.
“If you do not have the power to close the skies, then give me planes!” Mr Zelensky said. “If we are no more then, God forbid, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia will be next. Believe me.”
Mr Zelensky said he now had good communication with US President Joe Biden and other leaders, but claimed they only stepped up their support after the invasion.
“It’s a pity it began after the beginning of this war, but we have it,” he said. “And my appreciation to (Biden) and to his team. We can speak now often. The whole world is late with Ukraine, making decisions.”
Mr Zelensky — who just weeks ago sought to calm Ukrainians over US allegations that Russia was planning to invade his country — said, “Nobody thought that in the modern world a man can behave like a beast.”
He repeated a claim – which fact checkers say has not been verified – that Russia has brought mobile crematoriums to Ukraine in order to hide its losses.
“It is simply a nightmare, I simply don’t understand what sort of person could plan such an act,” he said. “That is Nazism and genocide. I feel embarrassed that now in the 21st century that today there are such acts. People say forget about this and that, about apocalypse, the end of the world – the end of the world has arrived.”
White House says no plans to ban Russian oil exports
The United States has ruled out banning Russian oil exports for now, leaving the important carve-out in otherwise sweeping financial and trade sanctions targeting Moscow.
“We don’t have a strategic interest in reducing the global supply of energy,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Thursday.
“That would raise prices at the gas pump for the American people, around the world because it would reduce the supply available. It’s as simple as less supply raises prices, and that is certainly a big factor for the President at this moment.”
She added, “It could also, it also has the potential to pad the pockets of President Putin, which is exactly what we are not trying to do. So as the President has said, we carved out payments for energy, trade and transport from our financial sectors sanctions with that in mind.”
Ms Psaki rejected calls to restart the cancelled Keystone XL pipeline from Canada, saying the US should instead invest in clean energy to reduce its reliance on oil.
She dismissed a reporter’s suggestion that the US was “financing the war” as long as it continued to buy Russian oil. “Again, it’s only about 10 per cent of what we’re importing,” she said.
“Our objective here and our focus is making sure any step we take maximises the impact on President Putin and minimises it on the American people. Anyone who’s calling for an end to the carve-out should be clear that that would raise prices.”
Battle rages for Europe’s biggest nuclear power plant
Russian troops are battling with Ukrainian forces for control of Europe’s biggest nuclear power plant.
The plant is located in Enerhodar in southern Ukraine on the left bank of the Dnieper River, about 50km southwest of the city of Zaporizhzhia.
It produces around one quarter of Ukraine’s total electricity supply, and Kremlin troops have reportedly ramped up their attempts to seize the plant as it would be a major strategic victory for Russia, according to The Sun.
Tracer fire lit up the night sky and video showed black smoke rising from the outskirts of the city. Pictures earlier on Thursday showed brave Ukrainians forming a human barricade in front of the nuclear plant to prevent Russian troops from seizing it.
The Ukrainian government said in a statement that Russia’s actions “could lead to another nuclear disaster, affecting the entire world”. “The city of Enerhodar, housing the largest nuclear power plant in Europe, is preparing for a battle with the invaders,” they said.
“If shells hit near the nuclear power plant, they will damage transformers, turbines, and other equipment that ensures the plant’s safety. To prevent this from happening, the entrance to Enerhodar is guarded by the brave station workers and military.”
The International Atomic Energy Agency has called for an immediate halt to fighting near the plant. IAEA director general Rafael Mariano Grossi said Ukraine’s regulatory authority had sent an urgent letter stating that today a large number of Russian tanks and infantry “broke through the block-post” to the town of Enerhodar.
“The battle is going on in the town of Enerhodar and on the road to the ZNPP (Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant) site,” the body said in the letter, adding that the situation was “critical”.
“Director general Grossi appealed for an immediate halt to the use of force at Enerhodar and called on the military forces operating there to refrain from violence near the nuclear power plant,” the IAEA said. “He said the IAEA continues to consult with Ukraine and others with a view to provide maximum possible assistance to the country as it seeks to maintain nuclear safety and security in the current difficult circumstances.”
Russian forces last week took control of the Chernobyl nuclear site in northern Ukraine.
Macron fears ‘worst to come’ after call with Putin
French President Emmanuel Macron believes “the worst is to come” in Ukraine after a phone call with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin who appears intent on seizing “the whole” of the country, an aide to the French leader said.
“The expectation of the president is that the worst is to come, given what President Putin told him,” the senior aide told reporters on the condition of anonymity.
“There was nothing in what President Putin told us that should reassure us. He showed great determination to continue the operation,” the aide added, adding that Mr Macron told Mr Putin he was making a “grave mistake”.
The French leader himself later tweeted that in the conversation Mr Putin showed he “refuses … to stop his attacks against Ukraine”. Mr Putin “wanted to seize control of the whole of Ukraine … he will, in his own words, carry out his operation to ‘de-Nazify’ Ukraine to the end”.
In response to Mr Putin’s claim of “de-Nazification”, Mr Macron replied that “either you are telling yourself stories or you’re looking for a pretext”, according to his aide.
“In any case, what you’re saying does not match with reality and can in no way justify the violence of what you’re doing today, nor that your country is going to pay a very high price because it will end up an isolated, weakened country under sanctions for a long time,” said Mr Macron, who reportedly told Mr Putin he was “delusional”.
The aide said that Mr Macron had also called Mr Putin’s claims “lies”. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is the country’s first Jewish leader.
Top Russian general killed by sniper in huge blow
One of Vladimir Putin’s most senior paratroopers was gunned down “by a sniper” during a special operation in Ukraine, according to news service East 2 West.
Major-General Andrey Sukhovetsky, 47, was the deputy commander of the 41st Combined Arms Army of the Central Military District. There has been no official announcement over his death but a military source confirmed, “This is true. Sniper.”
His funeral back in Russia is scheduled for Saturday. He is the most senior known casualty, and a blow to Mr Putin in another sign his war effort is not going to plan.
It came as Ukraine claimed to have killed 9000 Russian soldiers so far – far higher than the nearly 500 admitted by Moscow.
Maj. Gen. Sukhovetsky was a highly respected paratrooper, famed for leading training missions in “hostile territory”. It is not confirmed where he died but suspected it during in attempt to land in Hostomel.
On the first day of the war, an assault by airborne forces just outside Kyiv was met with strong resistance from the Ukrainians. Defenders shot down a number of the Mi-8 troop-carrying helicopters during the assault.
Sergey Chipilyov of the All-Russian Union Airborne Forces Union of Russian Paratroopers posted on social media, “With great pain, we received the tragic news about the death of our friend, Major-General Andrey Aleksandrovich Sukhovetsky, in Ukraine during a special operation. We express our deepest condolences to his family.”
Until 2021, he headed the Novorossiysk 7th Guards Airborne Assault Mountain Division, which specialised in combat in mountainous areas.
‘Use with caution’: Musk warns Starlink likely ‘targeted’
Elon Musk has issued an urgent warning to Ukrainians using Starlink that the satellite internet service is likely being “targeted” by Russia.
“Important warning: Starlink is the only non-Russian communications system still working in some parts of Ukraine, so probability of being targeted is high,” Musk wrote on Twitter. “Please use with caution.”
A shipment of Starlink terminals arrived in Ukraine earlier this week in response to a direct appeal from Ukrainian Vice Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov to the billionaire for help, after Russia’s assaults on cities left parts of the country with internet outages.
“While you try to colonise Mars – Russia try to occupy Ukraine! While your rockets successfully land from space – Russian rockets attack Ukrainian civil people!” Mr Fedorov tweeted to Musk. “We ask you to provide Ukraine with Starlink stations and to address sane Russians to stand.”
Musk has, via SpaceX, launched thousands of Starlink satellites into Earth’s orbit, increasing broadband service in parts of the world. The satellites help carry large amounts of information rapidly to any point on Earth, avoiding the need for fibre-optic cables.
Russia besieging Mariupol ‘just like Leningrad’
As the UN opens a probe into alleged Russian war crimes, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has told the Putin regime in a video statement, “You will reimburse us for everything you did against our state, against every Ukrainian, in full.”
Thirty-three people died Thursday when Russian forces hit residential areas, including schools and a high-rise apartment block, in the northern Ukrainian city of Chernihiv, authorities said.
While a long military column appears stalled north of Ukraine’s capital Kyiv, Russian troops seized Kherson, a Black Sea city of 290,000 people, after a three-day siege that left it short of food and medicine.
Russian armoured columns from Crimea — annexed by Moscow in 2014 — pushed deep into the region around Kherson, triggering fighting that left at least 13 civilians dead. Nine Ukrainian soldiers were also killed, the Kherson regional administration said.
Russian troops are also besieging the port city of Mariupol east of Kherson, which is without water or electricity in the depths of winter. “They are trying to create a blockade here, just like in Leningrad,” Mariupol mayor Vadym Boichenko said, referring to the brutal Nazi siege of Russia’s second city, now renamed Saint Petersburg.
Queen Elizabeth II donates for Ukraine refugees
Queen Elizabeth II has donated to an appeal for funds to help Ukrainian refugees, an alliance of leading UK aid charities said Thursday.
The Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), representing the British Red Cross and 14 other groups, thanked the Queen “for making a generous donation” to its Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal.
The appeal is to raise funds to help Ukrainians fleeing the conflict sparked by Russia’s invasion, both within the country and in neighbouring countries where refugees are arriving in huge numbers.
The charities and their local partners are providing food, water, shelter and medical assistance.
The appeal will see the UK government match up to £20 million ($36 million) in donations. ITV royal correspondent Chris Ship wrote on Twitter that the Queen’s donation came from her private income.
Putin declares invasion is ‘going to plan’, vows to destroy ‘anti-Russia’
In a televised speech on Thursday, Vladimir Putin declared Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was “going to plan”, arguing the two nations are “one people” and vowing to “destroy this ‘anti-Russia’ created by the West”.
He made the comments as the invasion, which he refers to as a “special military operation”, enters its second week amid fresh reports of attacks on Ukrainian civilians.
Mr Putin called Ukrainian forces “extreme gangsters”, accusing them of taking “thousands of foreign citizens hostage” and using civilians as “human shields”. He claimed the Ukrainians had been “brainwashed” and that Russian soldiers were the “real heroes”.
“All objectives that were set are being achieved successfully,” he said, while promising monetary compensation to the families of dead Russian servicemembers.
Mr Putin admitted that his forces had lost “some small towns” and that some Russians, including a senior commander, had died in the fighting – but insisted the invasion was to protect the eastern Donbas region.
“Now on Ukrainian territory, our soldiers and officers are fighting for Russia, for a peaceful life for the citizens of Donbas, for the de-Nazification and demilitarisation of Ukraine, so that we can’t be threatened by an anti-Russia right on our borders that the West has been creating for years,” he said.
In its latest intelligence update, the UK’s Ministry of Defence says Russia has been “forced to admit that 498 Russian soldiers have already been killed and 1597 wounded in Putin’s war”, but that “the actual number of those killed and wounded will almost certainly be considerably higher and will continue to rise”.
Russia, Ukraine agree civilian evacuation corridors
Russia and Ukraine agreed Thursday to create humanitarian corridors for civilians fleeing intensifying fighting.
The agreement was the only tangible progress from a second round of talks between Moscow and Kyiv, according to an adviser to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, and it was not immediately clear how they would work. A Russian negotiator, nationalist lawmaker Leonid Slutsky, confirmed the initiative and said it would be implemented soon.
The two sides met after the fall of the first major Ukrainian city to Russian forces, with Mr Putin apparently unwilling to heed a global clamour for hostilities to end as the war entered its second week.
The European Union agreed further to approve temporary protection for all refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine — numbered by the United Nations at more than one million.
At the talks at an undisclosed location on the Belarus-Poland border, both sides shook hands across a table at the outset, the Ukrainian delegates in military attire and the Russians in more formal suits.
A first round of talks on Monday also yielded no breakthrough, and Kyiv says it will not accept any Russian “ultimatums”.
— with AFP