By Yuras Karmanau
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russia has renewed its bombardments in the area of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, a local official said Wednesday, a day after the UN’s atomic watchdog lobbied for the warring parties create a safety zone there to protect themselves against a possible disaster.
The town of Nikopol, located on the opposite bank of the Dnieper to Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, was targeted by rocket and heavy artillery fire, regional governor Valentyn Reznichenko said.
Reports of nearby shelling, which could not be independently verified, caused international alarm. The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Grossi, warned the UN Security Council on Tuesday that “something very, very catastrophic could happen” in Zaporizhzhia.
“There are fires, power outages and other things at (the plant) that require us to prepare the local population for the consequences of nuclear danger,” Reznichenko said.
The potential peril has led the UN’s atomic watchdog to urge Russia and Ukraine to establish a “nuclear protection and safety zone” around the plant.
It is feared that the fighting could trigger a catastrophe on the scale of the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. The plant was built during Soviet times and is one of the 10 largest in the world.
Neither Moscow nor Kyiv officials would immediately commit to the idea of a safe zone, saying more details on the proposal were needed.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has defied pressure to stop the war, saying Wednesday that Moscow will continue its military offensive in Ukraine until it achieves its goals. He also mocked Western attempts to stop Russia with sanctions.
The eastern city of Sloviansk came under Russian fire on Wednesday morning, damaging a school and another building, according to city administration chief Vadym Lyakh.
City firefighters dug deep into the still-smoldering rubble of a building and pulled out at least one body bag.
Pieces of brick, masonry and concrete lay among the torn branches of nearby trees, mixed with broken glass and tiles. The metal doors, deformed by the force of the explosion, hung from their hinges.
The strike took place around 4 a.m., said Raisa Smelkova, a 75-year-old resident who lives in another part of the building. She and her husband are unharmed.
Smelkova and her husband lived through the previous war in Ukraine in 2014, when Russia annexed the Crimea region. But this time, she says, things are much worse.
“What’s happening now isn’t just scary, it’s horrific,” she said. “There is more destruction. Everything is worse. Just everything.
Three civilians were killed in Russian shelling in the Donetsk region, Ukraine’s presidential office said. The city of Kharkiv was hit by rockets twice overnight.
But Ukrainian forces have taken control of an unknown number of towns in the Kherson region, according to Nataliya Humenyuk, spokesman for the Southern Military Command. She said details would come later from the military leadership.
The UK Ministry of Defense said there had been heavy fighting on three fronts: in the north, near Kharkiv; to the east in the Donbass; and to the south in Kherson Oblast.
Amid a Ukrainian counterattack in the east, “multiple simultaneous threats spread over 500 kilometers (310 miles) will test Russia’s ability to coordinate operational design and reallocate resources among multiple groups of forces,” the ministry said on Wednesday.
The Russian military has held large-scale military exercises that began last week and ended Wednesday in the east of the country, involving Chinese forces. It was seen as another manifestation of increasingly close ties between Moscow and Beijing amid tensions with the West over military action in Ukraine.
Elena Becatoros from Sloviansk contributed to this report.
Follow AP coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine