A Russian missile has blasted a crater close to a nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine, damaging nearby industrial equipment but not hitting its three reactors, in a move denounced by Ukrainian authorities as an act of “nuclear terrorism”.
The missile struck within 300 metres (328 yards) of the reactors at the South Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant near the city of Yuzhnoukrainsk in Mykolaiv province on Monday, leaving a hole 2 metres (6.5 feet) deep and 4 metres (13 feet) wide, according to Ukrainian nuclear operator Energoatom.
The reactors were operating normally and no employees were injured, it said. But the proximity of the strike renewed fears that Russia’s nearly seven-month-long war in Ukraine might produce a radiation disaster.
This nuclear power station is Ukraine’s second-largest after the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, which has repeatedly come under fire.
Following recent battlefield setbacks, Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened last week to step up Russian attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure. Throughout the war, Russia has targeted Ukraine’s electricity generation and transmission equipment, causing blackouts and endangering the safety systems of the country’s nuclear power plants.
The industrial complex that includes the South Ukraine plant sits along the Southern Bug River about 300km (190 miles) south of the capital, Kyiv. The attack also caused the temporary shutdown of a nearby hydroelectric power plant, shattered more than 100 windows at the complex and severed three power lines, Ukrainian authorities said.
Ukraine’s Defence Ministry released a black-and-white video showing two large fireballs erupting one after the other in the dark, followed by incandescent showers of sparks, 19 minutes after midnight. The ministry and Energoatom called the attack “nuclear terrorism”.
Russia ‘palpably panicking’
A back-up power line used to supply the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant with electricity for essential operations from the Ukrainian grid was disconnected on Sunday, but the plant remained connected to one of the main power lines restored last week, the UN nuclear watchdog said on Monday.
“Last week, we saw some improvements regarding its power supplies, but today we were informed about a new setback in this regard,” Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said in a statement.
Russian forces occupied the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, Europe’s largest, early in the invasion. Shelling has cut off the plant’s transmission lines, forcing operators to shut down its six reactors to avoid a radiation disaster. Russia and Ukraine have traded blame for the strikes.
The mayor of Enerhodar, where the Zaporizhzhia plant is located, reported more Russian shelling on Monday in the city’s industrial zone.
The latest Russian shelling killed at least eight civilians and wounded 22 others, Ukraine’s presidential office said.
The governor of the northeastern Kharkiv region, which is now largely back in Ukrainian hands, said Russian shelling killed four medical workers trying to evacuate patients from a psychiatric hospital and wounded two patients.
The mayor of the Russian-occupied eastern city of Donetsk, meanwhile, said shelling by Ukrainian forces had killed 13 civilians and wounded eight there.
The attacks come amid a Ukrainian counteroffensive in the Kharkiv region that was hailed as a potential turning point in the war.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russia was “palpably panicking” as his country continued to move on with its counteroffensive that has reclaimed towns and cities from Russian troops.
In his nightly video address on Monday, Zelenskyy said Ukraine was “stabilising” the situation in the northeastern Kharkiv region, which is now largely back in Ukrainian hands.
But in the city of Kupiansk – split in two by the Oskil River – Russian forces are fighting to hold on.
They have still not quite completed the symbolic feat of forcing Russia out of the entire Kharkiv region, and back into Donetsk, the eastern region the Kremlin insists was its main target all along.
On Monday, a steady stream of civilians was seeking transport out of Kupiansk, fleeing the shellfire and what locals said was the weeklong failure of water and electricity supplies.
“It was impossible to stay where we were living,” 56-year-old Lyudmyla, who braved the constant crack of shells to cross the river from the disputed east bank to the relative safety of the west, told the AFP news agency.
“There was incoming fire not just every day, but literally every hour. It’s very tough there, on the other bank of the river.”