KYIV: Russian missile attacks caused a crippled nuclear plant in Ukraine to lose all external power for the second time in five days, increasing the risk of a radiation disaster because electricity is needed to operate critical safety systems, Ukraine’s state nuclear operator said Wednesday.
The Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant suffered a “blackout” when a missile damaged an electrical substation, leading to the emergency shutdown of the plant’s last remaining outside power source, operator Energoatom reported.
All six of the reactors were stopped earlier due to the war. But they still require electricity to prevent them from overheating to the point of a meltdown that could cause radiation to pour from Europe’s largest nuclear plant. Energoatom said diesel generators were supplying the plant but Russian troops blocked a convoy carrying additional fuel for the back-up equipment.
“Russian shelling and damage to the energy infrastructure associated with the operation of nuclear power plants are the same manifestation of nuclear terrorism as the direct shelling of the (Zaporizhzhia plant). and lead to the same consequences and radiation accident threats,” the company said.
The warning came amid a flurry of developments in Russia’s war in Ukraine. Russia’s main domestic security agency said eight people were arrested in connection with an explosion on a bridge that links Russia to the Crimean Peninsula. The Ukrainian president’s office said strikes Moscow ordered in retaliation for the bridge attack killed at least 14 people died and wounded 34 in the last day.
Russia’s Federal Security Service, known by the Russian acronym FSB, said it arrested five Russians and three citizens of Ukraine and Armenia in the attack on the Kerch Bridge. A truck loaded with explosives blew up while driving across the bridge Saturday, killing four people and causing sections of road to collapse.
The span opened four years after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, serving as a symbol of Moscow’s regional dominance as well as a crucial route for getting military supplies to Ukraine and Russian travelers to a popular vacation destination.
The FSB alleged the detained suspects acted on orders of Ukraine’s military intelligence to secretly move the explosives by a convoluted route into Russia and forge accompanying documents.
The Russian security services have pointed the finger at Ukraine’s intelligence directorate and its head, Kyrylo Budanov. Ukraine’s Defense Ministry on Wednesday dismissed accusations of Ukrainian involvement.
“The entire activity of the FSB and the Investigative Committee is nonsense,” Defense Ministry spokesman Andriy Yusov told reporters.
Russian President Vladimir Putin responded to the blast by ordering missile strikes across Ukraine, where his forces over the last month lost ground in the east and south as Ukraine’s military waged a counteroffensive. Ukrainian authorities said Russian missiles killed 19 people on Monday, including five in Kyiv, the capital.
The bombardment targeted power plants and also hit civilian buildings. Over the past two days, Russian strikes damaged about 1/3 of the country’s energy infrastructure, Ukrainian Energy Minister German Galushchenko said Wednesday.
Galushchenko told Ukrainian television he thinks that in addition to wanting to make Ukraine’s people suffer as winter approaches, Moscow targeted energy supplies to reduce Ukrainian energy exports that were “helping European nations to spend less on Russian gas and coal.”
Ukraine’s presidential office said in a morning update that eight Ukrainian regions in southeast were affected by Russian shelling and attacks involving drones, heavy artillery and missiles in the previous 24 hours, while strikes on central and western parts of Ukraine had ceased.
Kyrylo Tymoshenko, the deputy head of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office, said Russian shelling left at least 14 people dead in the Zaporizhzhia region and the Donetsk region to the east. At least 34 people were injured in five regions, he wrote on Telegram.
More than a dozen missiles were fired at the city of Zaporizhzhia and its suburbs, damaging residential buildings. While part of a larger eponymous region that Moscow has claimed as its own in violation of international law, the city remains in Ukrainian hands. Russian forces control the area about 53 kilometers (33 miles) away by air where the nuclear plant is located.
In Nikopol, a city across the Dnieper River, three people were wounded, including a 6-year-old girl; medical workers say they were in grave condition. Over 30 multi-story residential buildings were damaged in the city of 104,000, as well as private houses, kindergartens, a school, two plants and several shops, authorities said.
In the Donetsk region, Russian forces used tanks to shell the city of Avdiivka, damaging residential buildings. Two air strikes blasted the city of Bakhmut. In total, at least five cities in the region have been shelled, Ukrainian officials reported.
Near the southern city of Mykolaiv, Ukrainian forces shot down nine Iranian Shahed-136 drones and destroyed eight Kalibr cruise missiles, the presidential office said.
“Russian shelling intensifies and subsides, but doesn’t stop, not for a day -- the city lives in tension, and the Russians’ main goal appears to be keeping us in fear,” Mykolaiv regional governor Vitali Kim said.
Earlier Wednesday, Ukraine’s southern command said its forces recaptured five settlements in the southern Kherson region, on the western fringe of an arc of Russian-controlled territory in eastern and southern Ukraine.
Kherson, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Luhansk are four regions recently annexed by Russia, a move condemned as illegal under international law by many countries and the U.N. secretary-general.
Despite the advance, Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said Ukrainian forces’ counteroffensive in the south was losing pace, while regrouping in the east to deliver a “powerful blow” on the front line between the cities of Svatove and Kreminna in Luhansk region.