KYIV, UKRAINE – Ukraine’s nuclear operator said Thursday that Russia bombed and damaged power lines connecting Europe’s largest nuclear power plant to the Ukrainian grid, leaving the plant dependent on diesel generators again.
The generators have enough fuel to sustain the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southeastern Ukraine for just 15 days, Energoatom said in a post on its Telegram channel.
“The countdown has begun,” Energoatom said, noting that it had limited possibilities to “keep the ZNPP in safe mode,” raising fears of a possible nuclear catastrophe.
With its six reactors inoperative, the plant depends on outside electricity to cool its spent fuel. Russia and Ukraine swapped responsibility for months amid the war for bombing in and around the plant that the UN nuclear watchdog said could cause a radiological emergency.
The nuclear plant is in a part of the Zaporizhzhia region that has been occupied by Russian forces since the early days of the war, which began when Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24.
Although Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree transferring the factory to Russian ownership, Ukrainian workers continue to run the factory. Energoatom has repeatedly called for the withdrawal of Russian forces from the plant and the creation of a demilitarized zone around it.
Energoatom said on Thursday that Russia bombed two power lines that connected the plant to the Ukrainian grid overnight, and accused it of being “an attempt to reconnect the nuclear plant to the Russian electricity system“. The operator said the Russian side would try to repair the power lines in order to connect the plant to the Russian grid and thus supply electricity to occupied Crimea and parts of Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region also currently controlled by Russia.
Across the Dnipro River from the power station, the town of Nikopol was also shelled, damaging residential buildings, a gas station and several private businesses, the office of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Thursday.
Other Ukrainian cities were also affected, with Russia using drones, missiles and heavy artillery that killed six civilians and injured 16 others, according to the president’s office. Power and water infrastructure was hit in Zelensky’s hometown of Kryvyi Rih, leaving several neighborhoods without power or water in the city that had a pre-war population of 635,000, local governor Oleksandr Vilkul said.
Further east, in the Donetsk region, fighting continued for the towns of Bakhmut and Avdiivka, where authorities said the population lived without electricity or heating and came under constant shelling. Over the past day, six towns and villages in the region have been attacked by heavy artillery, while in the northeast, Ukraine’s second largest city, Kharkiv, was hit by three missiles, officials said.
Separately, seven ships carrying 290,000 tons of agricultural products left Ukrainian seaports bound for Asia and Europe, a day after Russia agreed to join a wartime agreement allowing the shipment of grain and other Ukrainian products to world markets.
In announcing that Russia would join the pact, Putin said Moscow had received assurances that Ukraine would not use humanitarian corridors to attack Russian forces. He warned that Russia reserves the right to withdraw again if Kyiv breaks its word.
Russia had suspended its participation in the grain deal over the weekend, citing an alleged drone attack on its Black Sea Fleet in Crimea. Ukraine has not claimed responsibility for an attack and Zelenskyy said on Wednesday that Moscow’s return to the deal showed “Russian blackmail led nowhere”.
In Moscow, the Russian Foreign Ministry summoned British Ambassador Deborah Bronnert on Thursday, saying she had been called in connection with the alleged involvement of British instructors in the October 29 attack by drones on the installations. of the Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol in Crimea. Bronnert made no comment as he quit the ministry after a meeting that lasted about half an hour.
Ships that sailed on Thursday included one carrying 29,000 tons of sunflower seeds bound for Oman and one carrying 67,000 tons of corn bound for China, according to the Ministry of Infrastructure.
Since the conclusion of the agreement in August, 430 ships have exported 10 million tons of Ukrainian agricultural products to countries in Africa, Asia and Europe. The Infrastructure Ministry said export volumes in October “could have been 30-40% higher if Russia had not artificially blocked inspections in the Bosphorus.”