Ukraine and Russia accused each other on Friday of putting Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, which is occupied by Russian forces in a region that is expected to become one of the war’s next major front lines.
Western countries have urged Moscow to withdraw its troops from the Zaporizhzhia plant, but there has been no indication that Russia will do so. The plant was taken over by Russian forces in early March, but it is still being operated by Ukrainian technicians.
The plant dominates the south bank of the Dnipro River, which runs through southern Ukraine. Ukrainian forces controlling towns and cities on the opposite bank have been heavily bombarded by Russian forces.
Marhanets, the governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region, Valentyn Reznichenko, said three civilians, including a boy, were wounded in overnight shelling of one of those towns.
For weeks, Kiev has said it is planning a counteroffensive to retake Zaporizhzhia and neighboring Kherson provinces, the largest portion of territory Russia seized after its Feb. 24 invasion that is still in Russian hands.
On Friday, Donetsk regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko reported more shelling of the eastern town of Kramatorsk. Private homes were severely damaged in a video posted on his Telegram channel. According to a Facebook post by the town’s mayor, three people were killed.
Ukraine’s military said its artillery destroyed a Russian ammunition depot near a bridge about 80 miles (130 kilometers) downstream from the nuclear plant, and that it could now attack nearly all of Moscow’s supply lines in the occupied south.
Serhiy Khlan, an official in the mostly Russian-occupied Kherson region, wrote on Facebook on Friday that Ukrainian forces had hit a fourth bridge spanning the Dnipro River.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has strained relations between the US and Russia, and Moscow issued a new warning on Friday that the schism is widening.
The US is arming Ukraine to defend itself, and Russia accuses it of being directly involved in the conflict.
On Friday, a senior Russian official said Moscow had told Washington that if the US Senate passed legislation designating Russia as a “state sponsor of terrorism,” diplomatic ties would be severely harmed, if not severed entirely.
The power station was struck five times on Thursday, including near where radioactive materials are stored, according to Ukraine’s Energoatom agency, whose workers still operate the Zaporizhzhia plant under Russian occupation.
Russia claims Ukraine is firing recklessly at the plant. According to Kyiv, Russian troops struck the plant themselves and are also using it as a shield to provide cover while bombarding nearby Ukrainian-held towns and cities. Reuters was unable to verify either account.
“The Ukrainian Armed Forces do not damage the plant’s infrastructure and do not strike where there may be a global threat.” We realize the invaders are hiding behind such a shield.
because there is no way to strike there,” Natalia Humeniuk, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s southern military command, told Ukrainian national television.
Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s former president, dismissed such accusations as “complete nonsense.”
Nuclear experts are concerned that fighting will damage the plant’s spent fuel pools or reactors.
“There is no nuclear power plant in the world that was designed to operate in a war situation,” Mycle Schneider, the World Nuclear Industry Status Report’s coordinator, said.
Aside from a shell strike, he said, the loss of electrical supply required to keep the reactors cool and the psychological state of the Ukrainian workers were major concerns.
The main Ukrainian front lines have remained relatively static in recent weeks, but fighting has recently escalated in anticipation of what Ukraine claims is a planned counteroffensive in the south.
Ukraine’s General Staff reported widespread shelling and air attacks by Russian forces on dozens of towns and military bases on Friday, particularly in the east, where Russia is attempting to expand territory held by separatist proxies.
On Friday morning, a shell landed outside 74-year-old Iryna’s home in Kramatorsk, less than 12 miles from the frontline.
“Everything has been destroyed. “The windows are gone, and one side of the roof is gone,” said the elderly woman, who only gave her first name. “When it rains, everything inside gets wet.” What happens next? We don’t have the means to flee. “Where would we end up?”