KYIV: Ukraine and Russia accused each other on Friday of risking nuclear disaster by shelling Europe's largest nuclear power plant, occupied by Russian forces in a region expected to become one of the next big front lines of the war.
Western countries have called for Moscow to withdraw its troops from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, and the United Nations called on Thursday for it to be declared a demilitarised zone. But there has been no sign so far of Russia agreeing to move its troops out of the facility they seized in March.
The plant dominates the south bank of a vast reservoir on the Dnipro river that cuts across southern Ukraine. Ukrainian forces controlling the towns and cities on the opposite bank have come under intense bombardment from the Russian-held side.
Three civilians, including a boy, were wounded in overnight shelling of one of those towns, Marhanets, Valentyn Reznichenko, governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region, said in the latest in a string of similar reports.
Kyiv has said for weeks it is planning a counteroffensive to recapture Zaporizhzhia and neighbouring Kherson provinces, the largest part of the territory Russia seized after its February 24 war still in Russian hands. Moscow has installed regional officials who say they intend to stage votes to join Russia.
Ukraine's Energoatom agency, whose workers still operate the plant under Russian occupation, said the power station was struck five times on Thursday, including near where radioactive materials are stored. Both sides blamed each other for the blasts and Reuters could not verify either account.
Russia says Ukraine is recklessly firing at the plant. Kyiv says Russian troops struck it themselves, and are also using the plant as a shield to provide cover while they bombard nearby Ukrainian-held towns and cities.
"The Ukrainian Armed Forces do not damage the infrastructure (of the plant), do not strike where there may be a danger on a global scale. We understand that the invaders are hiding behind such a shield because it is not possible to strike there," Natalia Humeniuk, spokesperson for Ukraine's southern military command, told Ukrainian national television.
The UN Security Council, where Russia wields a veto, met on Thursday to discuss the situation. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on both sides to stop all fighting near the plant.
"The facility must not be used as part of any military operation. Instead, urgent agreement is needed at a technical level on a safe perimeter of demilitarisation to ensure the safety of the area," Guterres said in a statement. - Reuters