Ukraine’s nuclear plant goes offline amid fighting

Ukraine’s and Europe’s largest nuclear plant has stopped supplying Ukrainian-held territories with electricity, Kremlin-backed authorities said Saturday, as a team of inspectors from the U.N. nuclear watchdog continued their mission at the site.

The Russian-appointed city administration in Enerhodar, where the Zaporizhzhia plant is located, blamed an alleged Ukrainian shelling attack on Saturday morning, which they said had destroyed a key power line.

“The provision of electricity to the territories controlled by Ukraine has been suspended due to technical difficulties,” the municipal administration said in a post on its official Telegram channel. It wasn’t clear whether electricity from the plant was still reaching Russian-held areas.

Vladimir Rogov, a member of the Kremlin-appointed regional administration said on Telegram that a shell had struck an area between two reactors. His claims could not be immediately verified.

Over the past weeks, Ukraine and Russia have traded blame over shelling at and near the plant, while also accusing each other of attempts to derail the visit from U.N. experts, who arrived at the plant Thursday. The International Atomic Energy Agency’s mission is meant to help secure the site.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said that Ukrainian troops launched another attempt to seize the plant late Friday, despite the presence of the IAEA monitors, sending 42 boats with 250 special forces personnel and foreign “mercenaries” to attempt a landing on the bank of the nearby Kakhovka reservoir.

The ministry said that four Russian fighter jets and two helicopter gunships destroyed about 20 boats and the others turned back. It added that the Russian artillery struck the Ukrainian-controlled right bank of the Dnieper River to target the retreating landing party.

The ministry claimed that the Russian military killed 47 troops, including 10 “mercenaries” and wounded 23. The Russian claims couldn’t be independently verified.

Russia reported earlier that about 60 Ukrainian troops previously tried to land near the plant on Thursday and Russian forces thwarted that attempt.

As of Saturday morning, neither the Ukrainian government nor the country’s nuclear energy operator, Enerhoatom, had commented on these allegations.

The plant has repeatedly suffered complete disconnection from Ukraine’s power grid since last week, with Enerhoatom blaming mortar shelling and fires near the site.

Local Ukrainian authorities accused Moscow of pounding two cities that overlook the plant across the Dnieper river with rockets, also an accusation they have made repeatedly over the past weeks.

In Zorya, a small village about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the Zaporizhzhia plant, residents on Friday could hear the sound of explosions in the area.

It’s not the shelling that scared them the most, but the risk of a radioactive leak in the plant.

“The power plant, yes, this is the scariest,” Natalia Stokoz, a mother of three, said. “Because the kids and adults will be affected, and it’s scary if the nuclear power plant is blown up.”

Oleksandr Pasko, a 31-year-old farmer, said “there is anxiety because we are quite close.” Pasko said that the Russian shelling has intensified in recent weeks.

During the first weeks of the war, authorities gave iodine tablets and masks to people living near the plant in case of radiation exposure.

Recently, they’ve also distributed iodine pills in Zaporizhzhia city, about 50 kilometers (31 miles) from the plant.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan offered to take the role of “facilitator” on the issue of the Zaporizhzhia plant, in a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin Saturday, according to a statement from the Turkish presidency.

The Ukrainian military on Saturday morning reported that Russian forces overnight pressed their stalled advance in the country’s industrial east, while also trying to hold on to areas captured in Ukraine’s northeast and south, including in the Kherson region cited as the target of Kyiv’s recent counteroffensive.

It added that Ukrainian forces repelled around half a dozen Russian attacks across the Donetsk region, including near two cities singled out as key targets of Moscow’s grinding effort to capture the rest of the province. The Donetsk region is one of two that make up Ukraine’s industrial heartland of the Donbas, alongside Luhansk, which was overrun by Russian troops in early July.

Separately, the British military confirmed in its regular update Saturday morning that Ukrainian forces were conducting “renewed offensive operations” in the south of Ukraine, advancing along a broad front west of the Dnieper and focusing on three axes within the Russian-occupied Kherson region.

“The operation has limited immediate objectives, but Ukraine’s forces have likely achieved a degree of tactical surprise; exploiting poor logistics, administration and leadership in the Russian armed forces,” the UK Ministry of Defense said on Twitter.

Russian shelling killed an 8-year-old child and injured at least four others in a southern Ukrainian town close to the Kherson region, Ukrainian officials said.

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Kozlowska reported from London.

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