KYIV (REUTERS) - Russian artillery fired at Ukrainian towns across the river from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant overnight, local officials said on Sunday (Aug 28), adding to residents' anguish as reports of shelling around the plant fuelled fears of a radiation disaster.
Russia's Defence Ministry said on Sunday there was more Ukrainian shelling of the plant over the past 24 hours, just a day after Moscow and Kyiv traded accusations of targeting Europe's biggest nuclear plant, which has prompted grave international concern.
Ukrainian nuclear company Energoatom said it had no new information about attacks on the plant.
Captured by Russian troops in March, but still run by Ukrainian staff, the complex on the southern front line of the war has been one of the major hot spots in the six-month-old conflict.
Regional governor Oleksandr Starukh said on Telegram on Sunday that Russian forces struck residential buildings in the region's main city of Zaporizhzhia, about a two-hour drive from the plant, and the town of Orikhiv further east.
On Saturday, Mr Starukh told Ukrainian television that residents were being taught how to use iodine in case of a radiation leak.
Ukraine's military reported shelling of nine more towns in the area on the opposite side of the Dnipro river from the plant in its daily report, while the RIA agency quoted the Russian Defence Ministry as saying its air force struck a Motor Sich plant in the region where helicopters were repaired.
Reuters could not verify those reports.
Russian Defence Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said nine shells fired by the Ukrainian artillery in two separate attacks landed on the nuclear plant's grounds.
"At present, full-time technical personnel are monitoring the technical condition of the nuclear plant and ensuring its operation. The radiation situation in the area of the nuclear power plant remains normal," he said in a statement.
The United Nations and Kyiv have called for a withdrawal of military equipment and personnel from the plant to ensure it is not a target.
Continent at risk
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said that Russian forces had turned the plant into a military base, putting the whole continent at risk, and had no business being there.
"Russian military must get out of the plant," he said on Twitter.
The UN nuclear watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency is waiting for clearance for its officials to visit the plant, which its head said on Thursday should be "very, very close".
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned on Friday the situation at Zaporizhzhia remained "very risky" a day after it took hours to reconnect two of its reactors to the grid after shelling cut them off.
Elsewhere, the United States said on Sunday that Russia did not want to acknowledge the grave radiological risk at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, adding that was the reason it blocked a nuclear non-proliferation treaty deal’s final draft.
“The Russian Federation alone decided to block consensus on a final document at the conclusion of the Tenth Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Russia did so in order to block language that merely acknowledged the grave radiological risk at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine,” the US State Department said in a statement.
The statement comes after Russia blocked an agreement on Friday on the final draft of a review of the UN treaty considered the cornerstone of nuclear disarmament over criticism of Moscow’s actions in Ukraine.
On Ukraine's eastern front, Ukrainian forces halted the latest Russian attempt to advance on the town of Slovyansk, Kyiv's military said in its daily report.
Defenders foiled Russian attempts to break through around the strategic city of Bakhmut to extend control over the Donbas region after Moscow captured Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk weeks ago, the military said.
According to regional governors, the cities of Kramatorsk and Slovyansk in Donetsk province were shelled by Russian forces overnight, but there were no reports of new casualties.
Reuters could not verify those accounts.
President Vladimir Putin launched the invasion of Russia's neighbour on Feb 24, saying a "special operation" was needed to demilitarise the country and remove perceived security threats to Russia.
Ukraine and the West have dismissed this as a baseless pretext for an imperialist war of conquest that has killed thousands, displaced tens of millions, turned cities to rubble and threatened the global economy with an energy and food supply crunch sending prices soaring.
Ukraine’s foreign ministry said Mr Kuleba would travel to Sweden on Monday followed by a trip to the Czech Republic on Tuesday as part of Kyiv’s efforts to cement international support for Ukraine and push for more sanctions pressure on Russia.
In Prague, he will attend an informal meeting of EU foreign ministers that will discuss new sanctions on Moscow and an EU-wide visa ban for Russians.
Mr Zelensky called for such a ban earlier this month, but so far it found support mainly from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Finland, which all share a border with Russia.