Russian forces carried out a missile strike that narrowly missed a nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine, officials said in Kyiv, days after an international watchdog warned that the bombing of a another atomic energy site could cause a serious incident.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Monday the strike nearly hit the Pivdennukrainsk nuclear power plant in the Mykolaiv region, about 200 km north of the southern front line of fighting between Russian and Ukrainian troops.
“At night, a missile fell 300 meters from the Pivdennoukrainsk nuclear power plant,” Zelenskyy said on a Telegram channel. Publish which included video footage purporting to show the strike and subsequent explosion. “Russia endangers the whole world. We have to stop it before it’s too late,” he added.
Energoatom, Ukraine’s national nuclear energy company, said three reactors at the plant continued to operate and no one was injured. He added that around 100 windows at the site were smashed and a brief power outage occurred.
Ukrainian Energy Minister German Galushchenko on Monday accused Moscow of adopting a strategy of “nuclear terror” following the invasion of Russian troops in February. “Russia, in desperation, is bringing the world to the brink of nuclear catastrophe,” he said.
A senior US official said on Monday: “We estimate that the strike hit a power plant near the power plant but did not directly hit the power plant.” Moscow did not immediately confirm or deny the strike.
Ukraine and Russia have repeatedly accused each other of carrying out artillery strikes on another atomic energy site – the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, located in the southern city of Energodar.
The International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, last week urged the Kremlin to relinquish control of the Zaporizhzhia power plant, warning that “persistent violent actions” at the site were increasing the risk of “a nuclear accident or incident”. The IAEA board passed a resolution calling on Russia to “cease” all actions on and against the plant, and any other nuclear power plants in Ukraine, in order “to ensure their safe and secure operation”.
Russian forces have stepped up missile attacks on critical infrastructure, including power generators and a reservoir dam in the central city of Kryviy Rih, Zelenskyy’s hometown.
It follows a lightning counter-offensive in the northeast region of Kharkiv which forced the Moscow army to cede more than 3,000 km2 of territory. It was the biggest military success for Ukrainian forces since repelling Russia’s early-war attempt to seize the capital, Kyiv.
Last week, Ukraine claimed to have discovered a mass grave of more than 440 people in the northeast town of Izyum, which was taken over as part of the operation. He said the discovery was further evidence of war crimes committed by Russian forces. On Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the claims were false. “It’s a lie,” he said.
Oleg Synegubov, governor of the Kharkiv region, said on Monday that of the “146 bodies exhumed so far, the vast majority were civilians, including two children”.
“Some of the dead show signs of violent death, there are bodies with their hands tied and traces of torture. It was also discovered that the deceased had injuries caused by mine explosions, shrapnel and stab wounds,” he added in a message from the Telegram channel.
Ukrainian forces, increasingly armed from the west with modern weapons, claimed over the weekend that they had added to recaptured territory in the Kharkiv region by taking parts of the eastern bank of the Oskil River and from its tank. This would bring his troops closer to the border of the far eastern Russian-controlled Lugansk region. It would also put them within artillery strike range of the routes supplying Russia’s largest concentration of eastern forces in the northern parts of the Donetsk region.
The two regions form the Donbass, which the Russian president claimed to be “liberated” to justify the invasion launched by his troops seven months ago.
In an interview aired this weekend on CBS 60 minutes program, US President Joe Biden said Ukraine was “defeating Russia”, adding that victory meant “taking Russia completely out of Ukraine”.
Responding to concerns that Putin may resort to the use of tactical nuclear or chemical weapons, Biden said, “Don’t. Don’t. Don’t.”
“It would change the face of warfare like it hasn’t since World War II,” he added.
Additional reporting by Felicia Schwartz