UN warning after nuclear power plant knocked off grid in wave of Russian missile strikes in Ukraine
The head of the UN nuclear watchdog issued an urgent warning after Vladimir Putin launched a huge wave of missile and drone strikes on Ukraine knocking the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant off the electricity grid.
The capital Kyiv, the second largest city of Kharkiv in the east, and the Black Sea port of Odesa were all hit in the attacks on a wide arc of targets, from Zhytomyr, Vynnytsia and Rivne in the west to Dnipro and Poltava in central Ukraine, officials said.
The strikes on 10 regions left the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station off the electricity grid with 10 to 15 days of emergency back-up from generators, energy chiefs said.
Electrical power was later restored but the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) expressed alarm at the latest blacout - the sixth at Europe’s biggest power plant since the start of the conflict.
"What are we doing to prevent this happening? We are the IAEA, we are meant to care about nuclear safety," director-general Rafael Mariano Grossi told its board of directors in a meeting on Thursday.
"Each time we are rolling a dice," he said. "And if we allow this to continue time after time, then one day our luck will run out."
At least five people were killed in a missile strike on a residential area in the western Lviv region in the barage of missile strikes, according to emergency services.
Footage from the area, some 440 miles from any military battlefield, showed a flattened house and badly damaged buildings nearby.
Another civilian was reported killed in the Dnipro region.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in response to the strikes: “The occupiers can only terrorise civilians. That’s all they can do. But it won’t help them,” he said. “They won’t avoid responsibility for everything they have done.”
Overall, Russia launched 81 missiles and eight exploding Shahed drones, according to Ukraine's Chief Commander of the Armed Forces Valerii Zaluzhnyi. Thirty-four cruise missiles were intercepted, as were four drones, he said.
When the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Europe’s largest, was severed from the national grid at about 5am the fifth and sixth reactors were shut down and electric power needed for the plant’s functioning was being supplied by 18 diesel generators, with enough fuel for 10 days, said Ukrainian state power company Energoatom.
The plant, which Russia has held since capturing it early in the war, is near the front line and both sides have warned of a potential for nuclear accidents.
Nuclear power stations need constant power to run cooling systems and avoid a meltdown, and fears remain about the possibility of a catastrophe at Zaporizhzhia.
Russian-installed officials called the cut-off a Ukrainian provocation, although there was no evidence to back up this claim, and said the plant was running safely on diesel back-up power.
Ukraine’s Energy Minister Herman Halushchenko condemned the missile strikes as “another barbaric massive attack on the energy infrastructure of Ukraine,” saying in a Facebook post that facilities in Kyiv, Mykolaiv, Kharkiv, Zaporizhzhia, Odesa, Dnipropetrovsk and Zhytomyr regions had been targeted.
Ukrainian Railways reported power outages in certain areas, with 15 trains delayed up to an hour.
The Kyiv mayor reported damage in two districts, and the Kharkiv and Odesa governors said residential buildings were hit there.
In eastern Ukraine, 15 missiles struck Kharkiv and the outlying northeastern region, hitting residential buildings, according to Kharkiv Gov. Oleh Syniehubov.
He promised to reveal more details about the scale of the damage or any casualties in Ukraine’s second-largest city.
“Objects of critical infrastructure is again in the crosshairs of the occupants,” he said in a Telegram post.
Kharkiv Mayor Ihor Terekhov reported on Telegram that there were “problems with electricity” in some parts of the city.
The governor of the southern Odesa region, Maksym Marchenko, also reported strikes on Odesa, saying that energy facilities and residential buildings were hit. Marchenko warned on Telegram for people to stay in shelters.
Preventive emergency power cuts were applied in Kyiv, Dnipropetrovsk, Donetsk and Odesa regions, supplier DTEK said.
More explosions were reported in the northern city of Chernihiv and the western Lviv region, as well as in the cities of Dnipro, Lutsk and Rivne. Ukrainian media also report explosions in the western regions of Ivano-Frankivsk and Ternopil.
Russia has been hitting Ukraine with these massive missile attacks since last October.
Initially, the barrages targeting the country’s energy infrastructure took place weekly, plunging the entire cities into darkness, but became more spread out in time, with commentators speculating that Moscow may be saving up ammunition.
The last massive barrage took place on February 16.
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s military said its forces had managed to push back intense attacks on the eastern mining town of Bakhmut, despite a Russian claim of control of its eastern half.
In Kyiv, residents were awakened by explosions and a seven-hour air strike alert through the night was the longest of the five-month Russian air campaign.
Ukrainian officials said in the latest attacks Moscow had fired six of its kinzhal hypersonic missiles, an unprecedented number. Russia is believed to have only a few dozen of the missiles which Putin regularly touts as a weapon for which Nato has no answer.