Fear for nuclear power plant: Russians storm defense line in eastern Ukraine

KBarely six months after the start of their invasion, Russian troops in eastern Ukraine are attacking with all their might the town of Bakhmut – a cornerstone of the defense line around the last Ukrainian-controlled metropolitan area there. This was announced by the General Staff in Kyiv in its new situation report on Saturday. The day before, the pro-Russian rebels reported that there was already fighting in the city. The Russian military also reported that it had killed hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers and destroyed Western military equipment with air and artillery strikes on the southern front. The information provided by both sides cannot be checked independently.

After the shelling of the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant on Friday, Russia and Ukraine blamed each other. The largest nuclear power plant in Europe is located in the part of southern Ukraine occupied by Russia, and there have been several dicey situations there in the past few months of the war. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyj spoke of an “act of terrorism” by the Russian side and called for new sanctions aimed specifically at the neighboring country’s nuclear industry. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kyiv said: If a reactor is hit while it is in operation, the possible consequences are “tantamount to the use of an atomic bomb”.

The Ukrainian state nuclear agency Enerhoatom said the shelling damaged a nitrogen plant and an auxiliary part of the power plant. “There is still a risk of hydrogen escaping and radioactive particles spreading, and the risk of fire is also high.”


The site of the nuclear power plant in the city of Enerhodar in Zaporizhia Oblast in December 2014
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Image: REUTERS

The Russian Ministry of Defense announced that parts of the city of Enerhodar, where the power plant is located, had lost power and water supplies and blamed the Ukrainian army. In addition, a block of the nuclear power plant had to be partially shut down. The information could not be independently verified. The Ukrainian side, on the other hand, said the Russians had shelled the area themselves.

Since the capture of the Luhansk Oblast, Russian attacks in eastern Ukraine have focused on the neighboring Donetsk Oblast. The invaders have gradually been able to push back the Ukrainian defenders over the past few weeks. They now control about 60 percent of the territory.

The headquarters of the Ukrainian troops in the Donbass is located in the Sloviansk-Kramatorsk conurbation, where a good half a million people lived before the war. This area is secured from the east by the Siwersk-Soledar-Bakhmut fortress line. This is now faltering in several places. Russian troops are also in front of Siwersk and Soledar. However, the heaviest fighting is currently taking place around the Bachmut traffic junction.

The fighting is also continuing in front of the former regional capital of Donetsk, which has been in the hands of pro-Russian separatists since 2014. The troops loyal to Moscow are trying to push the Ukrainians further away. In the area around the small town of Avdiivka north of Donetsk, there had been several attempted attacks that had been repelled, the General Staff reported. The area is bombarded extensively with artillery.

In the south of the country, however, the initiative is passed to the Ukrainians. According to the situation report from Kyiv, the Russian troops there are concentrating on defending their positions. The Southern Command of the Ukrainian military previously reported that it had destroyed at least six Russian arms and ammunition depots and two command posts in the Kherson region. There is no independent confirmation for this information either.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said air and artillery strikes killed nearly 600 Ukrainian soldiers. The 46th Ukrainian air assault brigade was hit near the village of Bilohirka in the Cherson region. According to him, more than 400 “nationalists” died in the process. In addition, more than 70 other soldiers were killed and 150 injured by rocket attacks on the front there. More than 80 “foreign mercenaries” died in rocket attacks in the Dnipropetrovsk region.

New phase of the war

Konashenkov also reported on the destruction of several artillery systems in Ukraine. A battery of “Olcha” and Himar rocket launchers was destroyed. Himars are accurate, long-range American multiple rocket launchers.

According to British information, the war is currently entering a new phase. The Ministry of Defense in London expects that the heaviest fighting will shift to a front line almost 350 kilometers long, which extends southwest near Zaporizhia to Cherson and thus runs parallel to the Dnipro River.

In anticipation of Ukraine’s counteroffensive or in preparation for a possible attack, Russian forces were almost certainly massing in southern Ukraine, the British wrote. Long Russian military convoys continued to move south-west away from Ukraine’s Donbass region.

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