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Lviv (Ukraine/Kyiv/Paris) (Reuters) – A massive fire broke out at the site of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant on Friday and officials said the plant in southeastern Ukraine was operating normally after it was captured by Russian forces in the fighting that caused global alarm. .
Separately, the governor of Mykolaiv said that Russian forces had entered his city of about 500,000 people, but a presidential adviser later said that the Russian advance had stalled.
The city, which is a center for shipbuilding, is located in the south of Ukraine where Russian forces have made the biggest advance to date, and if captured it will be the largest that has not fallen so far.
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Officials said the fire in the Zaporizhzhya complex was in a training center and not in the factory itself. An official at Energoatom, the state company that operates four nuclear plants in Ukraine, said there was no more fighting, the fire was out, the radiation was normal, and Russian forces were in control.
“The workers in their workplaces provide the normal operation of the plant,” the official told Reuters in a message.
He said his organization is no longer in contact with plant managers, nor does it control the radiation situation there or oversee potentially dangerous nuclear materials in its six reactors and about 150 containers of spent fuel.
The Russian Defense Ministry also said the plant was operating normally. It blamed the fire on a “brutal attack” by Ukrainian saboteurs and said its forces were in control.
The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Grossi, said the plant was not damaged by what is believed to be a Russian missile. Only one reactor was running at about 60% of its capacity. He described the situation as still tense, with the plant operating normally but nothing normal about it.
Video from the factory, verified by Reuters earlier, showed one building burning in a hail of incoming shells before a large glowing ball lit up in the sky and exploded next to a parking lot, sending smoke billowing across the complex.
The possibility that the fighting at the plant could cause a potential nuclear disaster to deteriorate global financial markets.
Even seemingly avoiding this scenario, Russia’s hold on a plant that provides more than a fifth of Ukraine’s electricity was a major development after eight days of war in which other Russian advances were bogged down by fierce resistance.
US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and other Western officials said there was no indication of elevated radiation levels.
“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. In another speech later, the Russians called for protest. Read more
Thousands of people are believed to have been killed or injured and more than a million refugees have fled Ukraine since February 24, when Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the biggest attack on a European country since World War II.
Russian forces advancing from three directions surrounded Ukrainian cities and bombarded them with artillery and air raids. Moscow says its goal is to disarm its neighbor and arrest leaders it calls neo-Nazis. Ukraine and its Western allies view this as a baseless excuse to launch a war to invade the country of 44 million people.
Russia had already taken over the defunct Chernobyl plant north of Kyiv, which dumped radioactive waste across much of Europe when it melted in 1986. The Zaporizhzhia plant is a different, safer kind.
The escalation of protests and sanctions
In Russia itself, where key Putin opponents have been largely imprisoned or exiled over the past year, the war has been accompanied by further suppression of dissent. Authorities banned reports referring to a “special military operation” as a “war” or “invasion.” Anti-war demonstrations were quickly quelled, with thousands arrested.
On Friday, authorities closed foreign broadcasters including BBC, Voice of America and Deutsche Welle. The last of the major independent broadcasters, TV Dozhd (Rain) and Radio Ekho Moskvy, were closed Thursday. The lower house of the State Duma introduced legislation on Friday to impose prison terms on people for publishing “false” reports about the military. Read more
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, making more progress in the south than anywhere else.
Vitaly Kim, Mayor of Mykolaiv, asked the residents not to panic after the entry of Russian troops into the city.
Loud explosions were heard in Kyiv on Friday morning, and air raid sirens sounded. Reuters journalists in the capital were not immediately able to determine the cause of the explosions.
Britain said in an intelligence update on Friday that the southeastern port city of Mariupol had surrounded Russian forces and had come under intense attacks.
“Maripol is still under Ukrainian control, but it is likely to be surrounded by Russian forces,” the Defense Ministry said. “The city’s civilian infrastructure has been subjected to intense Russian strikes,” he added.
In the northeast, along another major axis of Russian offensive, the cities of Kharkiv and Chernihiv have been bombed since the start of the sharply worsening invasion this week, but the defenders are holding out.
Kyiv, the capital of 3 million people, was bombed but so far escaped a major assault, with Russia’s main offensive force stalled for days in a mile-long convoy on a highway to the north. In Washington, a US defense official said the Russians were still 25 kilometers from downtown Kyiv.
Russia and Ukraine negotiators agreed at peace talks on Thursday on the need for humanitarian corridors to help civilians escape and get medicine and food into combat zones.
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Additional reporting by Pavel Politiuk, Natalia Zenets, Alexander Vasovich in Ukraine, John Irish in Paris, François Murphy in Vienna, David Leungren in Ottawa and other Reuters offices; Written by Peter Graf, Costas Pettas, Lincoln Vista; Editing by Stephen Coates, Simon Cameron Moore and Timothy Heritage
Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
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