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Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned that Russia might be preparing to blow up part of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the biggest such facility in Europe, as Kyiv’s military reported incremental gains in its southern and eastern counteroffensive.
“The Russian military has placed objects resembling explosives on the roof of several power units of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant,” Zelenskyy said in his night-time address on Tuesday, citing Ukrainian intelligence agencies. “Perhaps to simulate an attack on the plant. Perhaps they have some other scenario.”
Russian forces took control of the Zaporizhzhia plant soon after Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February last year. Rockets and mortar rounds have struck near the plant and gunfights have broken out around it.
“The world sees . . . that the only source of danger to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant is Russia and no one else,” Zelenskyy added.
On Telegram, channels linked to Russian military bloggers and propagandists spread rumours of an imminent Ukrainian “false flag” attack on Zaporizhzhia that would be blamed on Russia, without providing evidence for their claim.
Zelenskyy said Russia may be emboldened to carry out such an attack because there had been “no timely and large-scale response” from western partners to Russia’s destruction of the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant and dam last month. The attack drained a reservoir and flooded a swath of southern Ukraine.
“This may incite the Kremlin to commit new evil,” Zelenskyy said. “It is the responsibility of everyone in the world to stop it, no one can stand aside, as radiation affects everyone.”
The warning prompted Ukraine’s health ministry to notify residents living near the Zaporizhzhia plant to gather medical supplies and personal items and be ready to flee at a moment’s notice.
“In the event of an explosion at the [power plant], residents of the potential radiation accident zone must be prepared for a possible evacuation,” it said.
Yevhen Yevtushenko, head of Nikopol’s district military administration, said on Wednesday that the plant was operating normally and there had been no suspicious movements by Russian forces overnight. Nikopol is on the other side of the Dnipro river from Enerhodar, where the Zaporizhzhia plant is located.
Ukraine’s state nuclear power company, Energoatom, reported that the water level in the plant’s cooling pond remained stable, despite the reservoir on which it sits being emptied after the Kakhovka dam and hydroelectric power plant was destroyed.
Ukraine’s military continues to make incremental gains in the southern Zaporizhzhia region, as well as around Bakhmut in the eastern Donetsk region, retaking some of the ground captured in May by Russian paramilitary group Wagner.
Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, said on Tuesday that the past few days had been “particularly fruitful” for Ukrainian forces on the frontline, without providing specific details. Ukraine’s military said it had destroyed a formation of Russian forces in Makiivka, 75km south of Bakhmut.
But Ukraine’s troops have also faced setbacks, particularly on the southern battlefield, where Russian minefields have impeded the progress of counteroffensive forces and led to significant casualties as well as the destruction of several western-supplied armoured vehicles.
Kyiv also warned that all of Ukraine remained under threat from Russian missile attacks. “The probability of launching missile and air strikes on the entire territory of Ukraine remains high,” the general staff of Ukraine’s armed forces said on Wednesday.
It noted that a Russian missile strike on Tuesday on the town of Pervomaiskyi, in the north-eastern Kharkiv region of Ukraine, had injured 43 civilians, including 12 children.
Russian authorities reported that towns in the border regions of Kursk and Belgorod came under drone and rocket fire on Wednesday, with some buildings damaged as a result and one person injured.