Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russia on Friday of unleashing ‘nuclear terror’ after his forces attacked Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, claiming the Russian leader wanted to repeat the Chernobyl disaster – considered the worst nuclear disaster in history.
‘You know the word Chernobyl,’ he said in a video posted on Friday morning, calling on Russia to stop its attack on a nuclear power plant 350 miles south of Kyiv.
‘No country other than Russia has ever fired on nuclear power units.
‘This is the first time in our history. In the history of mankind.
‘The terrorist state now resorted to nuclear terror,’ he said in the video message.
Zelensky said: ‘Europe needs to wake up. The biggest nuclear power plant in Europe is on fire right now.
‘Russian tanks are shooting at the nuclear blocks. These are tanks equipped with thermal imagers, so they know what they are aiming at.’
Ukraine war: The latest
- Zaporizhzhya nuclear plant in the city of Enerhodar, 350 miles south of Kyiv, is shelled by Russian forces in the early hours of Friday.
- A spokesman for the plant, Andriy Tuz, said that one of the six reactors was on fire, but it was not operational as it was being repaired: it did contain nuclear fuel, however.
- As dawn breaks on Friday, some reports suggest firefighters had arrived at the site and the fire at a training centre on the site has been put out.
- The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) says the radiation levels around the site appears normal. Their Incident and Emergency Centre is put on 24/7 alert.
- Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, speaks in the early hours of Thursday to Joe Biden and other world leaders about the shelling.
- ‘Russian propaganda has in the past threatened to cover the world in nuclear ash. Now this isn’t just a warning – this is real,’ he says.
- Hours earlier, Zelensky had once again urged the world to bring in a No-Fly Zone over his country.
- Moscow’s isolation on Friday deepens: Airbnb announces it was ceasing operations in Russia and Belarus, following the lead set by Ikea, Nike, Apple, HSBC, Shell, BP, Mastercard and Visa.
- Heavy fighting continues in Mariupol and Kharkiv into Friday, with the residents of Odessa bracing for a possible amphibious assault.
- Devastating footage shows the aftermath of missile strikes in Chernihiv, 100 miles north of Kyiv, which killed at least 33 people.
- Russian forces on Thursday took the Black Sea port of Kherson in southern Ukraine – the first and so far only major city to fall.
- Peace talks between the two sides concluded on Thursday with an agreement for safe corridors to be created to allow for people to evacuate cities and for aid to be delivered, both sides confirmed
Europe’s largest nuclear plant was on fire in the early hours of Friday morning after coming under attack by Russian troops – a fire that was put out by dawn, but that experts said still posed dangerous challenges.
Ukrainian State Emergency Service confirmed on Friday that the blaze at the facility 350 miles south of Kyiv was out shortly before daybreak.
‘At 06:20 the fire at the Zaporizhzhia NPP training building in Enerhodar was extinguished. There are no dead or injured,’ the statement said.
Several hours earlier Andriy Tuz, a spokesperson for the Zaporizhzhia plant, said in a video posted on Telegram that one of the six reactors was on fire, but the reactor was not in use.
‘There is a real threat of nuclear danger in the biggest atomic energy station in Europe,’ he said.
He told Ukrainian television that shells were falling directly on the Zaporizhzhia plant, but the reactor on fire was under renovation and not operating, AP reported.
He said there is nuclear fuel inside, however.
Firefighters could not get near the fire because they are being shot at, Tuz said.
A live feed from the station showed a line of military vehicles firing at buildings at the nuclear plant, causing flames to break out at the site – sparking fears of a radiation disaster in the nation currently under invasion by Russian forces.
Nuclear experts were cautioning about overstating the danger, emphasizing that Chernobyl was a very different situation and accusing the country’s foreign minister of sparking unnecessary alarm by invoking the specter of an explosion ten times worse than the 1986 disaster.
The International Atomic Energy Agency said, around the time the fire was extinguished at dawn, that the country’s nuclear officials said the fire has not affected ‘essential’ equipment.
Rafael Grossi, the IAEA director, tweeted in the early hours of Friday that he was ‘deeply concerned’ by the situation, and called for an urgent end to the fighting around the plant.
The IAEA said on Friday it was putting its Incident and Emergency Centre ‘in full 24/7 response mode due to serious situation.’
The IAEA said plant personnel were ‘taking mitigatory actions’.
In response to the attack, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russia of ‘nuclear terror’ while British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will seek an emergency UN Security Council meeting in the coming hours, a Downing Street spokeswoman said.
‘The UK would raise this issue immediately with Russia,’ they added.
Johnson tweeted: ‘I’ve just spoken to President Zelensky about the gravely concerning situation at Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station.
‘Russia must immediately cease its attack on the power station and allow unfettered access for emergency services to the plant.’
As the chaotic scenes unfolded, a Kyiv official told The Associated Press elevated levels of radiation had been detected near the site of the plant. A plant spokesman later said they remained at normal levels, and Ukraine’s 24 TV channel quoted the plant’s director as saying that ‘radiation security’ had been secured.
The International Atomic Energy Agency on Thursday night said they were deeply concerned – but emphasized that no increase in radiation levels had been reported.
‘#Ukraine regulator tells IAEA there has been no change reported in #radiation levels at the #Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant site,’ they tweeted.
Meanwhile, Moscow’s isolation deepened on Friday, with Airbnb becoming the latest company to pull out of the country – following Ikea, BP, Shell, HSBC, Apple and Nike.
‘Airbnb is suspending all operations in Russia and Belarus,’ tweeted the CEO, Brian Chesky.
Smoke clouds the area in front of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant early Friday morning as Russian tanks (on the road, centre) attack the facility
Sparks erupt from an administration building (bottom right) as a live steam video shot from a larger office block behind it films Russian tanks opening fire on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in the early hours of Friday morning
A projectile (the bright light, bottom left) lands in a car park at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, damaging cars in the area
An explosion hits the Zaporizhzhia early on Friday as Russian tanks attack the facility
The Ukrainian atomic energy ministry said that one of the six generating units at the plant had been struck by Russian fire. Zaporizhzhia has six nuclear reactors and produces almost a quarter of Ukraine’s power.
Officials initially reported Russian troops were blocking emergency services from reaching the blaze in a unit housing radioactive material, but local media later said firefighters were now able to extinguish it.
Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, said there was ‘firing from all sides at the plant.
‘Russian army is firing from all sides upon Zaporizhzhia NPP, the largest nuclear power plant in Europe,’ he wrote on Twitter.
‘Fire has already broken 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!’
Kuleba was referring to the 1986 disaster in the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the north of the country when Ukraine was in the Soviet Union.
After several hours of uncertainty, Ukrainian authorities said the site had been secured.
President Joe Biden had spoken with his Ukrainian counterpart about the attack, while a Downing Street spokeswoman said Johnson had also spoken to Zelensky.
The spokeswoman called the situation ‘gravely concerning’, adding: ‘Both leaders agreed that Russia must immediately cease its attack on the power station and allow unfettered access for emergency services to the plant.
‘The Prime Minister said the reckless actions of President Putin could now directly threaten the safety of all of Europe.
‘He said the UK would do everything it could to ensure the situation did not deteriorate further.
‘The Prime Minister said he would be seeking an emergency UN Security Council meeting in the coming hours, and that the UK would raise this issue immediately with Russia and close partners.
‘Both leaders agreed a ceasefire was crucial.’
The White House was monitoring the situation, officials said.
‘POTUS spoke with President Zelenskyy this evening to receive an update on the fire at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant,’ the White House tweeted.
‘He joined President Zelenskyy in urging Russia to cease its military activities in the area and allow firefighters and emergency responders to access the site.
‘POTUS also spoke this evening with Under Secretary for Nuclear Security of the U.S. Department of Energy and Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration to receive an update on the situation at the plant.
‘The President will continue to be briefed regularly.’
The live feed from the plant at one point appeared to show the flashing lights of emergency vehicles arriving to the scene, but their path was blocked by tanks stationed along the road leading up to the reactors.
There has been fierce fighting between local forces and Russian troops as they battled for the key energy-producing region, the mayor – Dmytro Orlov – said in an online post reporting the fire, adding that there had been casualties without giving details.
‘As a result of continuous enemy shelling of buildings and units of the largest nuclear power plant in Europe, the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant is on fire,’ Orlov said, citing what he called a threat to world security.
Pictured: The plant’s Reactor 1 shown on the live camera feed from the power plant as during the drama tonight. It was said to have been struck by Russian weapons and caught fire
The live stream shows tanks outside the power plant. A fire burns on the lower floors of the large building to the right of shot
A live feed from the Zaporizhzhia station showed flames at the site in the east of Ukraine, having earlier shown tanks firing at buildings – sparking fears of a radiation disaster in the country currently being invaded by Russian forces
Zaporizhzhia has six nuclear reactors, making it the largest of its kind in Europe, and accounts for about one-quarter of Ukraine’s power generation. One report said the fire was about 150 meters away from one of the reactors
The mayor of Enerhodar, the town that is home to the plant, said earlier that 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 U.N. atomic watchdog agency expressed grave concern that the fighting could cause accidental damage to Ukraine’s 15 nuclear reactors.
Ukrainian authorities reported Russian troops were stepping up efforts to seize the plant and had entered the town with tanks on Thursday, in a bid to win control of the key energy-producing region.
Civilians defied Russian troops for a second day running to protect the nuclear plant. They were shown setting up make-shift roadblocks in an attempt to barricade the route to the facility.
Both the Ukrainian state atomic energy company and Orlov warned troops were nearing the Zaporizhzhia power station. Officials said loud shots were heard in the city late Thursday.
‘Many young men in athletic clothes and armed with Kalashnikov have come into the city. They are breaking down door and trying to get into the apartments of local residents,’ the statement from Energoatom said.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal joined Ukraine’s president in calling on the West to close the skies over Ukraine’s nuclear plants as fighting intensified around the major energy hub on the left bank of the Dnieper River and the Khakhovka Reservoir.
Shmyhal said he already had appealed to NATO and the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations’ atomic watchdog.
‘Close the skies over Ukraine! It is a question of the security of the whole world!’ Shmyhal said in a statement Thursday evening.
The U.S. and NATO allies have ruled out creating a no-fly zone since the move would directly pit Russian and Western militaries, with fears such an action could be the spark that sets off a third World War.
Earlier, huge plumes of black smoke and fire were seen coming from a makeshift barricade on the main route to the Zaporizhzhia site, as an air raid siren wailed in the background.
Footage, taken earlier today, showed armed men holding guns and wearing bulletproof vests as rounds of ammunition appeared to be fired by Russian troops.
Two brave civilians can be seen throwing molotov cocktails in the direction of Russian forces, in a video posted to Facebook by mayor Orlov.
Missiles lighting up the sky have also been fired on Thursday evening as Russian troops advance through Ukraine.
Zaporizhzhia is the largest of Ukraine’s nuclear sites, with six out of the country’s 15 reactors.
Russia has already seized control of the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear plant, scene of the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 1986.
Research by specialists for Greenpeace International found that, in a worst-case scenario where explosions destroy the reactor containment and cooling systems at Zaporizhzhia, it could create a disaster far worse even than Fukushima in Japan in 2011.
Huge plums of black smoke and fire were seen coming from a makeshift barricade on the main route to the Zaporizhzhia site in eastern Ukraine, as an air raid siren wailed in the background
The footage, taken earlier today, showed armed men holding guns and wearing bulletproof vests as rounds of ammunition appeared to be fired by Russian troops
Two brave civilians can be seen throwing molotov cocktails in the direction of Russian forces, in a video posted to Facebook by the mayor of Enerhodar, Dmitri Orlov
On Wednesday Ukrainian civilians built makeshift roadblocks with bright orange lorries and piles of tyres on the main route to the Zaporizhzhia site.
Brandishing Ukrainian flags, the army of volunteers created a human barricade near the city of Enerhodar to stop advancing Russian troops.
Footage posted on social media showed the blockade, reportedly a kilometre long and comprising scrap cars, garbage trucks and sandbags.
Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s interior ministry, warned on Wednesday the Russians could create a ‘new Chernobyl’ if the plant was damaged.
‘Because of Vladimir Putin’s madness, Europe is again on the brink of a nuclear catastrophe,’ he wrote on Facebook.
‘The city where the largest nuclear power plant in Europe is located is preparing for a battle with the invaders. An accident can happen like at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant or the Fukushima nuclear power plant.
‘Russian generals – think again! Radiation does not know nationalities, does not spare anyone!’
Russia has written to the International Atomic Energy Agency saying its forces have taken control of the area around the plant.
Hundreds of Ukrainian civilians defied Russian troops on Wednesday in a bid to protect Europe’s largest nuclear plant Zaporizhzhia
Brandishing Ukrainian flags, the army of volunteers created a human barricade near the city of Enerhodar to stop advancing Russian troops
Footage posted on social media showed the blockade, reportedly a kilometre long and comprising scrap cars, garbage trucks and sandbags
Locals of Zaporizhzhia prepare and carry sand bags inside and outside of the hospital so that it is less affected by the Russian attack
A man carries a sandbag to seal the entrance to the Emergency Care Hospital in Zaporizhzhia, the site of the Europe’s largest nuclear plant
The UN nuclear watchdog said Moscow claimed technicians at Zaporizhzhia were continuing their ‘work on providing nuclear safety and monitoring radiation in normal mode of operation’.
The letter on Wednesday added: ‘The radiation levels remain normal.’
IAEA chief Rafael Grossi warned on Wednesday that any ‘accident involving the nuclear facilities in Ukraine could have severe consequences for public health and the environment’.
He said it was ‘imperative to ensure that the brave people who operate, regulate, inspect and assess the nuclear facilities in Ukraine can continue to do their indispensable jobs safely, unimpeded and without undue pressure’.
Jan Vande Putte, co-author of the risk analysis, said: ‘So long as this war continues the military threat to Ukraine’s nuclear plants will remain.
‘This is one further reason, amongst so many, why Putin needs to immediately cease his war on Ukraine.’
The fight to protect Zaporizhzhia is symbolic of the everyday heroism shown by the Ukrainian people.
Vitali Klitschko, the mayor of Kyiv, told the BBC he had seen a line ‘hours long’ of civilians queuing up to get weapons.
‘Right now, people are proud,’ the former world champion boxer said.
His brother Wladimir, who was also a top fighter, said: ‘This is our home. Our parents are buried here, our children go to school here.
‘Why should we flee? What would you do if someone gets into your house? You defend it.’