May 21, 2022

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Russian forces seize huge Ukrainian nuclear plant, fire put out

Russian forces seize huge Ukrainian nuclear plant, fire put out
  • Heavy fighting in the area around a huge nuclear plant
  • No Signs of High Radiation – US Energy Sec
  • US and UK hit oligarchs with more sanctions

Lviv, Ukraine (Reuters) – Russian forces have taken control of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, Ukrainian authorities said on Friday, after a building in the complex caught fire during heavy fighting with Ukrainian defenders.

Fears of a possible nuclear catastrophe at the Zaporizhia plant sent an alarm in the capitals of the world, before the authorities announced that the fire in a building identified as a training center had been extinguished.

US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said there was no indication of high radiation levels at the plant, which provides more than a fifth of all electricity generated in Ukraine.

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The Ukrainian regional authority confirmed in a Facebook post that Russian forces had captured the station and said personnel were monitoring the condition of the power units to ensure they could operate safely.

Earlier, a video from the factory verified by Reuters showed shelling and smoke rising near a five-storey building in the factory complex.

Nighttime footage showed one building on fire, and a barrage of incoming shells, before a large ball of candles lit the sky, exploding next to a parking lot and billowing smoke across the complex.

“Europeans, please wake up. Tell the politicians that Russian forces are shooting at a nuclear power plant in Ukraine,” Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video speech.

Zelensky said Russian tanks fired on nuclear reactor plants although there was no evidence that they had been hit.

The mayor of the nearby town of Energodar, about 550 km southeast of Kyiv, said heavy fighting and “the constant bombardment of the enemy” had caused casualties in the area, without giving details.

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Thousands of people are believed to have been killed or injured and more than a million refugees have fled Ukraine since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the biggest attack on a European country since World War II last Thursday.

Early reports of the accident at the power plant sent financial markets up in Asia, with stocks plummeting and oil prices rising even more.

“Markets are concerned about the nuclear fallout. The risk is that there is miscalculation or an overreaction and that the war is prolonged,” said Vasu Menon, executive director of investment strategy at OCBC Bank.

Russia had already seized the defunct Chernobyl plant north of Kyiv, which dumped radioactive waste across much of Europe when it melted in 1986. The Zaporizhzhya plant is a different and safer kind, analysts said.

Earlier, US President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke with Zelensky to get an update on the situation at the plant.

“President Biden joined President Zelensky in urging Russia to cease its military activities in the region and allow firefighters and paramedics access to the site,” the White House said.

Johnson said Russian forces should end their offensive immediately and agreed with Zelensky that a ceasefire was crucial.

Downing Street said: “The Prime Minister has said that the reckless actions of President Putin can now directly threaten the safety of all of Europe.”

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency said he was “deeply concerned” about the situation at the nuclear plant and that Ukrainian authorities had assured the International Atomic Energy Agency that “essential” equipment had not been affected.

The escalation of protests and sanctions

Russia and Ukraine negotiators agreed on Thursday on the need for humanitarian corridors to help civilians flee and to get medicine and food to areas where fighting has been heaviest.

Ukrainian Presidential Adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said a temporary cessation of hostilities in selected locations was also possible.

Podolak was quoted by the state news agency Belta as saying that negotiators will meet again next week.

Only one Ukrainian city, the southern port of Kherson, has fallen to Russian forces since the invasion began on February 24, but Russian forces continue to besiege and attack other cities.

Mariupol, the main port on the Sea of ‚Äč‚ÄčAzov, was cordoned off and heavily bombed. Water and electricity were cut off, and officials say they cannot evacuate the wounded.

A video posted on Twitter from Mariupol and verified by Reuters showed parked vehicles burning as nonstop gunfire reverberated around the surrounding apartment buildings.

The northeastern city of Kharkiv has been under attack since the beginning of the invasion, but human rights defenders are still holding out in the heavily bombed city.

While no major attack on Kyiv was launched, the capital was bombed, and Russian forces unleashed devastating firepower to break resistance in the remote town of Borodinka.

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In Washington, a US defense official said Russian forces were still 25 km (25 miles) from downtown Kyiv.

The United States and Britain announced sanctions against more Russian oligarchs on Thursday, following the European Union’s measures, as they escalated pressure on the Kremlin.

More companies including Alphabet Inc’s (GOOGL.O) Google, footwear giant Nike and Swedish furniture maker IKEA have closed or scaled back their operations in Russia as trade and supply restrictions have added to political pressure. Read more

Russia describes its actions in Ukraine as a “special operation” that aims not to occupy territory but to overthrow the democratically elected government, destroy the military capabilities of its neighbors and arrest what it considers dangerous nationalists. It denies targeting civilians.

Moscow has tightened the flow of information, restricting access to the BBC’s Russian service and Radio Liberty.

Russian human rights activist and former world chess champion Garry Kasparov has called on Western countries to remove Russia from the global police agency Interpol, and to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine.

“Russia must be returned to the stone age to ensure that the oil and gas industry and any other sensitive industries essential to the survival of the regime cannot function without Western technological support,” Kasparov said.

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Additional reporting by Pavel Politiuk, Natalia Zenets and Aleksandr Vasovich in Ukraine, David Leungren in Ottawa, other Reuters offices; Written by Costas Pettas and Lincoln Fest; Editing by Stephen Coates and Simon Cameron Moore

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.