Fire near Ukraine nuclear plant set ablaze in Russian attack is out, says emergency service
Warning: this story includes a graphic image
- Fire broke out near a key nuclear power plant in Enerhodar, southeastern Ukraine, after Russian forces shelled the plant.
- Tentative agreement to set up safe routes for people leaving Ukraine and for aid to get in. A third round of talks between Russia and Ukraine is planned.
- Canada prepared to welcome an 'unlimited number' of Ukrainians fleeing the war, immigration minister says.
- Ukraine's former president called for a NATO no-fly zone, said the fight against Russia is not just for Ukraine but for the security of Europe.
- What questions do you have about Russia's invasion of Ukraine? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A fire at the Zaporitzhzhia nuclear power station in Ukraine, which broke out in a training building outside the plant's perimeter following an attack by Russian troops, has been put out, Ukraine's state emergency service said Friday.
Earlier, an official in Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's office said the reactors had not been damaged and radiation levels were normal. The official spoke on condition of anonymity due to not being authorized to speak publicly.
The plant's director also told Ukraine 24 television that radiation safety had been secured at the site.
The fire at the plant, the largest of its kind in Europe, prompted telephone calls between Zelensky and the leaders of the United States, Britain, European Union and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) about the possibility of a nuclear disaster.
"If there is an explosion — that's the end for everyone. The end for Europe. The evacuation of Europe," he said in an emotional speech in the middle of the night.
Leading nuclear authorities were concerned — but not panicked — about the damage to the power station. The U.S. Department of Energy activated its nuclear incident response team as a precaution.
Zelensky also spoke with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland about the nuclear plant.
DPM <a href="https://twitter.com/cafreeland?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@cafreeland</a> and I just spoke with President <a href="https://twitter.com/ZelenskyyUa?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@ZelenskyyUa</a> about the horrific attacks at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. These unacceptable attacks by Russia must cease immediately.—@JustinTrudeau
The IAEA reported it had been informed by Ukraine's regulator that there was no change in radiation levels at the plant. It later said in a tweet that the fire had not affected "essential" equipment, but said its Incident and Emergency Centre had been put into what it called a 24/7 response mode.
IAEA puts its Incident and Emergency Centre (<a href="https://twitter.com/IAEAIEC?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@IAEAIEC</a>) in full 24/7 response mode due to serious situation at <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Zaporizhzhia?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Zaporizhzhia</a> Nuclear Power Plant in <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Ukraine?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Ukraine</a>.—@iaeaorg
Earlier, Russian forces shelled the plant in the battle for control of the crucial energy-producing city of Enerhodar, and the power station was on fire.
Plant spokesperson Andriy Tuz told Ukrainian television that shells were falling directly on the Zaporizhzhia plant and had set fire to one of the facility's six reactors. That reactor is under renovation and not operating, but there is nuclear fuel inside, he said.
Firefighters could not get near the fire because they were being shot at, Tuz said.
Ukraine's foreign minister warned that if the plant explodes, it will be 10 times worse than the 1986 Chornobyl disaster, when a reactor went into meltdown and sent nearly 10 tonnes of radioactive material into the atmosphere and surrounding regions about 100 kilometres north of Kyiv. Two workers were killed immediately and another 30 died within weeks from radiation exposure.
Russian army is firing from all sides upon Zaporizhzhia NPP, the largest nuclear power plant in Europe. Fire has already broke out. If it blows up, it will be 10 times larger than Chornobyl! Russians must IMMEDIATELY cease the fire, allow firefighters, establish a security zone!—@DmytroKuleba
A live-streamed security camera linked from the homepage of the nuclear power plant showed what appeared to be armoured vehicles rolling into the facility's parking lot and shining spotlights on the building where the camera was mounted. There are then what appear to be bright muzzle flashes from vehicles and then nearly simultaneous explosions in the surrounding buildings.
Enerhodar is a city on the Dnieper River.
2nd round of talks
The fighting at Enerhodar came as another round of talks between the two sides yielded a tentative agreement to set up safe corridors to evacuate citizens and deliver humanitarian aid.
While the huge Russian armoured column threatening Kyiv appeared bogged down outside the capital, Putin's forces have brought their superior firepower to bear over the past few days, launching hundreds of missiles and artillery attacks on cities and other sites around the country and making significant gains in the south.
The mayor of Enerhodar said Ukrainian forces were battling Russian troops on the city's outskirts. Video showed flames and black smoke rising above the city of more than 50,000, with people streaming past wrecked cars, just a day after the UN atomic watchdog agency expressed grave concern that the fighting could cause accidental damage to Ukraine's 15 nuclear reactors.
Mayor Dmytro Orlov and the Ukrainian state atomic energy company had earlier reported that a Russian military column was heading toward the nuclear plant. Loud shots and rocket fire were heard late Thursday.
The Pentagon set up a direct communication link to Russia's Ministry of Defence earlier this week to avoid the possibility of a miscalculation sparking conflict between Moscow and Washington, according to a U.S. defence official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the link had not been announced.
Ukrainian leaders called on the people to defend their homeland by cutting down trees, erecting barricades in the cities and attacking enemy columns from the rear. In recent days, authorities have issued weapons to civilians and taught them how to make Molotov cocktails.
"Total resistance. … This is our Ukrainian trump card, and this is what we can do best in the world," Oleksiy Arestovich, an aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, said in a video message, recalling guerrilla actions in Nazi-occupied Ukraine during the Second World War.
Civilians flee fighting
The two sides said that they tentatively agreed to allow cease-fires in areas designated as safe corridors, and that they would seek to work out the necessary details quickly. A Zelensky adviser also said a third round of talks will be held early next week.
More than one million people have fled Ukraine following Russia's invasion, the swiftest refugee exodus this century, the United Nations refugee agency said, as Russian forces continued their push for control of key cities.
"Hour by hour, minute by minute, more people are fleeing the terrifying reality of violence," UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said in a statement. "Countless have been displaced inside the country."
The UN also said the number of refugees could top four million.
"While the scale and scope of displacement is not yet clear, we do expect that more than 10 million people may flee their homes if violence continues, including four million people who may cross borders to neighbouring countries," according to spokesperson Stephane Dujarric.
"It's been so fast and so shocking," Danny Glenwright, head of charitable organization Save the Children Canada, said of the mass movement of Ukrainians out of the country.
"Imagine, one day you've got your kids in school, and there's structure in their lives," he said. "The next day, they wake up, and they have to flee with really very little, over long distances in freezing conditions."
UNICEF, the United Nations children's agency, has said that within Ukraine, 7.5 million children are at "heightened risk" as the conflict escalates.
In a statement earlier this week, UNICEF executive director Catherine Russell said that access issues on the ground and "rapidly changing front lines" have made it difficult to deliver critical supplies and services.
The mass evacuation could be seen in Kharkiv, a city of about 1.5 million people where residents desperate to escape falling shells and bombs crowded the city's train station and pressed onto trains, not always knowing where they were headed.
Families with children fled via muddy and snowy roads in the eastern region of Donetsk, while military strikes on the village of Yakovlivka near the eastern city of Kharkiv destroyed 30 homes, leaving three people dead and seven wounded, according to emergency authorities.
Halyna Yanchenko, a Ukrainian member of parliament, told CBC News Network Thursday that a Russian missile recently hit a couple of blocks from her home on the outskirts of Kyiv.
Yanchenko, who is still in the capital region, sent her children away to the western part of the country — and even still, she says, she doesn't know if they will be safe.
She called the fight against Russia a "matter of survival" and said civilians are being killed in the Russian attacks. The UN human rights office said on Thursday that it had confirmed 249 civilians have been killed and 553 injured in the first week of the conflict, with the toll having risen overnight from 227 deaths and 525 injured reported a day ago.
What's happening on the ground?
The situation in Ukraine's capital Kyiv is "difficult but under control," Mayor Vitali Klitschko said on Thursday. Klitschko said there were no casualties overnight and that nighttime explosions were Ukrainian air defences striking down incoming Russian missiles. He said a heating system site damaged by Russian shelling on Wednesday would be fixed during the day.
On the far edges of Kyiv, volunteers well into their 60s manned a checkpoint to try to block the Russian advance. "In my old age, I had to take up arms," said Andrey Goncharuk, 68. He said the fighters needed more weapons, but "we'll kill the enemy and take their weapons."
In Borodyanka, a tiny town 60 kilometres northwest of Kyiv where locals had repelled a Russian assault, burnt out hulks of destroyed Russian armour were scattered on a highway, surrounded by buildings blasted into ruins.
- In the north, more shelling was reported in Chernihiv, where emergency officials said at least 33 civilians had been killed and 18 wounded in a Russian bombardment of a residential area. The search for more victims in the rubble was suspended because of renewed shelling.
- In the south, Mariupol city council said Russia was constantly and deliberately shelling critical civilian infrastructure in the southern port, leaving it without water, heating or power and preventing the provision of supplies and the evacuation of residents.
Cutting Ukraine's access to the coastline would deal a crippling blow to its economy and allow Russia to build a land corridor stretching from its border, across Crimea, which has been occupied by Russia since 2014, and potentially all the way west to Romania.
In Kherson, the Russians announced the capture of the southern city of Kherson, and local Ukrainian officials confirmed that forces have taken over local government headquarters in the vital Black Sea port of 280,000. But the U.S. believes that Russian forces have not yet taken over the city.
A senior U.S. defence official said Thursday the city could be used as part of a strategy for potentially moving to Mykolaiv and then onto Odesa.
Britain's defence secretary said it was possible the Russians had taken over, though that was not yet verified. If Kherson were to be captured, it would be the first significant urban centre to fall into the hands of Russian troops.
From Kherson, Russian troops appeared to roll toward Mykolaiv, another major Black Sea port and shipbuilding centre to the west along the coast. The regional governor, Vitaliy Kim, said that big convoys of Russian troops are advancing on the city but said that they will likely need to regroup before trying to take it over.
Lavrov acknowledges civilian deaths
In a statement, the UN human rights office said most of the civilian casualties so far were caused by "the use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area, including shelling from heavy artillery and multi-launch rocket systems."
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov voiced regret for civilian casualties, insisting that the military is only using precision weapons against military targets, despite abundant evidence of shelling of homes, schools and hospitals. However, he tacitly acknowledged that some Russian strikes could have killed civilians, saying that "any military action is fraught with casualties, and not just among the military but also civilians."
Russia reported its military casualties Wednesday for the first time in the war, saying nearly 500 of its troops had been killed and almost 1,600 wounded.
Ukraine did not disclose its own military losses. A Facebook post from Ukrainian military officials said that Russia's forces had suffered some 9,000 casualties in the fighting. It did not clarify if that figure included both killed and wounded soldiers.
Putin himself said in remarks Thursday that the Russians were using "only precision weapons to exclusively destroy military infrastructure" and blamed reports that say otherwise on an "anti-Russian disinformation campaign."
In a call with Emmanuel Macron in which the French president asked him to halt the attack on Ukraine, Putin said he was determined to press on with the invasion "until the end," according to Macron's office.
In a video address to the nation early Thursday, Zelensky praised his country's resistance.
"We are a people who in a week have destroyed the plans of the enemy," the president said. "They will have no peace here. They will have no food. They will have here not one quiet moment."
"These are not warriors of a superpower," he said of the Russian forces on the ground. "These are confused children who have been used."
ICC team heads to region
An advance team left the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague for "the Ukraine region" on Thursday to start investigating possible war crimes, its top prosecutor told Reuters in an interview. Their departure came hours after prosecutor Karim Khan said he would start collecting evidence as part of a formal investigation launched after Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine that began on Feb. 24.
Neither Russia nor Ukraine are members of the ICC, and Moscow does not recognize the court, which was established in 1997 by the Rome Statute and opened in The Hague in 2002.
Though not a member of the ICC, Ukraine signed a declaration in 2014 giving the court jurisdiction over alleged grave crimes committed on its territory from 2014 onward regardless of the nationality of the perpetrators.
With files from Reuters and CBC News