The United Nations atomic watchdog condemned what he described as targeted attacks on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in Russia-occupied Ukraine, calling for a “stop of this madness.”
Powerful explosions from shelling rocked Ukraine’s Zaporizhia region, the site of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, over the weekend.
A heavy barrage of Russian military strikes, nearly 400 on Sunday alone, also hit the eastern regions of Ukraine, with fierce ground battles raging in the eastern Donetsk province, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his evening update on the Sunday.
“The news from our team yesterday and this morning is extremely disturbing,” Rafael Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said in a statement on Sunday.
“Explosions occurred at the site of this major nuclear power plant, which is completely unacceptable.
“Whoever is behind this must be stopped immediately,” he added.
“As I have said many times before, you are playing with fire!”
In renewed shelling near and at the site, IAEA experts at the Zaporizhzhia facility reported hearing more than a dozen explosions in a short period on Sunday morning and were able to see some explosions from their windows, the agency said.
Later that day, the IAEA said the shelling had stopped and that its experts would assess the situation on Monday.
“There has been damage to parts of the site, but there is no radiation release or power loss,” he said.
Speaking to a French broadcaster, Grossi said it was clear that the raids on the plant were not an accident.
“The people who are doing this know where they are hitting. It’s absolutely deliberate, directed.”
The attacks in and around Zaporizhzhia have raised the risk of a nuclear catastrophe at the plant, which Russia occupied shortly after invading Ukraine on February 24.
Russia has been hitting Ukraine’s power grid and other critical civilian infrastructure from the air, causing widespread blackouts and leaving millions of Ukrainians without heat, electricity or water as temperatures drop and snow begins to fall in the capital, Kyiv. , and other cities.
Ukraine’s state nuclear power operator Energoatom blamed Russian forces for the latest bombing of Zaporizhzhia, saying the equipment attacked was consistent with the Kremlin’s intention to “damage or destroy as much of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure as possible.” as winter approaches.
Meanwhile, Moscow has blamed Ukrainian forces for the damage.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov accused the Ukrainians of shelling the power plant twice on Sunday, saying two shells hit near power lines supplying electricity to the plant.
Ukraine has said work is continuing to repair damage to the country’s energy infrastructure, but “stabilization blackouts” would be needed in 15 regions, including the capital on Sunday night. The country’s electric power company said blackouts would be scheduled in all regions on Monday.
“The restoration of networks and technical supply capacities, the demining of power transmission lines, repairs, everything happens around the clock,” Zelenskyy said in his evening speech.
Zelenskyy said Ukrainian forces were making small gains in the eastern Luhansk region and were holding their ground in battles in the south.
Russia withdrew its forces from the southern city of Kherson this month and moved some of them to reinforce positions in the east.
“The fiercest battles, as before, are in the Donetsk region. Although there were fewer attacks today due to worsening weather, the number of Russian shelling unfortunately remains extremely high,” Zelenskyy said.
In the speech, the president again laid out Kyiv’s peace terms, including food and energy security, the release of all prisoners and deportees, and the withdrawal of Russian troops from all Ukrainian territory.