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Attacks at Ukraine Nuclear Plant Are 'Suicidal,' U.N. Chief Warns

The Wall Street Journal. logo The Wall Street Journal. 8/8/2022 Matthew Luxmoore
© ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO/REUTERS

KYIV, Ukraine—The United Nations secretary-general warned that any attack on a nuclear plant was “suicidal” while Ukraine and Russia continued to trade accusations over the shelling of Europe’s largest nuclear facility, the focus of renewed fighting as Russia prepares to stage referendums in occupied territories that could be a prelude to their annexation.

Ukraine’s nuclear regulator Energoatom Monday accused Russia of placing mines on the territory of the Zaporizhzhia plant and goading Ukrainian forces positioned across the river into attacks. It said plant staff were forced to close one of the plant’s six reactors over the weekend after an attack that severed a high-voltage power line.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov blamed Ukraine for shelling the plant and warned that this activity “is fraught with catastrophic consequences for a vast territory, including the territory of Europe.”

The Zaporizhzhia plant has been controlled by the Russians since the early days of the war, but Ukrainian staff are still operating it. Some 500 Russian troops are estimated to be defending the complex, where they have been entrenched for several weeks and are firing rockets at Ukrainian positions, Ukrainian officials say.

There has been no damage to the reactors and no radiological release so far, Kyiv says, though there has been damage to three radiation monitors and about 800 square meters of window surfaces (about 8,611 square feet) shattered by fragments from explosions. One employee was hospitalized with shrapnel wounds, officials say.

Speaking in Tokyo Monday, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres condemned the attacks without singling out either side for blame, and urged that the International Atomic Energy Agency be given full access to the plant to assess the damage.

“Any attack to a nuclear plant is a suicidal thing. I hope that those attacks will end,” he said.

In a video address late on Sunday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky denounced what he said was Russian shelling of the nuclear power plant and warned that further fighting there poses a huge risk to all of Europe.


Video: Ukraine nuclear plant attack prompts U.N. call for access (Reuters)

“God forbid something irreversible happens. No one will stop the wind that will spread radioactive pollution,” he said.

In his comments, Mr. Peskov said there are no negotiations with the Ukrainian side and Russia’s military operation would continue until its goals are achieved. He said a summit between Mr. Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin could only take place after negotiations.

Ukraine has been calling meanwhile for more weapons from its Western allies as it readies a counteroffensive in the south. Mr. Zelensky said, without elaborating, that Kyiv this week expected good news from its partners on the question of further aid.

In the Russian-occupied areas of south Ukraine that Kyiv is seeking to recapture, insurgent activity has led to the deaths of Moscow-installed officials and proxies and complicated Russians plans to entrench its rule there. Mr. Peskov said it was inhabitants of Russian-controlled areas that were planning referendums to join Russia, not Moscow.

On Monday, the Moscow-installed head of the Zaporizhzhia region signed a decree on holding a referendum on joining Russia, according to Russian state newswires.

Ukrainian officials say those plans by Russia have resumed after a pause following Ukrainian strikes on infrastructure, but that Moscow is now expediting preparations for the referendums and moving away from the idea of a single day of voting on Sept. 11 toward a week of casting ballots instead.

The Ukrainian administration of Kherson, the first major city captured by Russian forces, said Moscow-installed officials were organizing 10,000-ruble payouts (equivalent to $165) to local residents in exchange for their participation in the September vote.

Ivan Fedorov, the Ukrainian mayor of Melitopol to the east of Kherson, said Sunday that plans are in place for Russian soldiers to visit homes in the city, collecting votes. He didn’t cite evidence for the claim, but reports from occupied territories suggest they are heavily militarized and patrolled by Russian soldiers. Foregoing the use of voting centers vulnerable to attacks and visiting residents’ homes instead could help Russia to weed out dissent in occupied areas and get a sense of the mood.

Mr. Zelensky warned people not to cooperate.

“I want to send a very simple message: Anyone who in any manner whatsoever helps the occupiers to carry out this aim will be made to answer. They will answer before Ukraine,” he said. “The position of our state remains the same as before: We will not give anything of ours away.”

As the battlefield focus has shifted from Ukraine’s east to its south, where Russia is massing troops and Kyiv is promising a counteroffensive aimed at retaking occupied territory, Western officials say Russia is fortifying its position in the east to solidify the front line. The U.K.’s Defense Ministry said Monday that Russia is likely using indiscriminate “butterfly mines” that were used to devastating effect in previous wars. Russia has denied such tactics and said it hasn’t targeted civilians.

Write to Matthew Luxmoore at Matthew.Luxmoore@wsj.com

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