SLOVIANSK, Ukraine (AP) — Russia and Ukraine on Sunday traded claims of missile and artillery strikes on or near Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, raising fears that the fighting could spark a massive radiation leak.
Russian forces took control of the Zaporizhzhya. about Nuclear power plant shortly after the war began and held adjacent territory along the left bank of the wide Dnieper River. Ukraine controls the Right Bank, including the towns of Nikopol and Marhanets, each about 10 kilometers (six miles) from the facility.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said on Sunday that Ukrainian troops attacked the plant twice in the past day and that grenades have fallen near buildings where reactor fuel and radioactive waste are stored.
“One projectile fell in the area of the sixth power unit and the other five in front of the pumping station of the sixth unit, which cools this reactor,” Konashenkov said, adding that radiation levels were normal.
In another apparent attack on Sunday, Russian forces shot down an armed Ukrainian drone that was targeting one of the Zaporizhzhya plant’s spent fuel depots, a local official said. Vladimir Rogov, a regional official installed in Russia, said on the Telegram messaging app that the drone had crashed into the roof of a building, without causing significant damage or injuring anyone.
Nearby, heavy fires during the night left parts of Nikopol without electricity, said Valentyn Reznichenko, the governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region. Rocket attacks damaged a dozen homes in Marhanets, according to Yevhen Yevtushenko, the head of the administration for the district that includes the city of about 45,000.
The town of Zaporizhzhya, about 40 kilometers upstream of the Dnieper River from the nuclear power plant, also came under Russian fire, damaging dozens of apartment buildings and houses and injuring two people, city council member Anatoliy Kurtev said. Russian forces have attacked a repair shop in Zaporizhzhya for Ukrainian air force helicopters, Konashenkov said.
Neither party’s claims could be independently verified.
Downstream from the nuclear power plant, Ukrainian missiles hit the hydroelectric power station of Kakhovka and the neighboring city three times on Sunday, said Vladimir Leontyev, the head of Russia’s installed local administration.
The plant’s dam is a major road across the river and a potentially important Russian supply route. The dam forms a reservoir that supplies water to the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant.
In eastern Ukraine, where Russian and separatist forces are trying to take control, shelling hit the large and strategically important cities of Kramatorsk and Sloviansk without casualties, said Pavlo Kyrylenko, the governor of the Donetsk region. Konashenkov said Russian rocket attacks killed 250 Ukrainian soldiers and reservists in and near Sloviansk. Ukrainian officials did not comment on the claim, in line with their policy of not discussing losses.
Sloviansk resident Kostiantyn Daineko told The Associated Press that he fell asleep when an explosion blew the windows of his apartment.
“I opened my eyes and saw the window frame fly over me, the frame and pieces of broken glass,” he said.
Russian and separatist forces control much of the Donetsk region, one of two that Russia has recognized as sovereign states.
Authorities last week started distributing iodine tablets to residents living near the Zaporizhzhya factory in case of radiation exposure. Much of the concern is centered on the cooling systems for the plant’s nuclear reactors. The systems require electricity and the plant was temporarily taken offline on Thursday due to fire damage to a transmission line. A failure in the cooling system could cause a meltdown.
Periodic shelling has damaged the plant’s infrastructure, Ukraine’s nuclear power plant, Energoatom, said on Saturday.
“There are risks of hydrogen leakage and sputtering of radioactive materials, and the fire hazard is high,” it said.
The UN Atomic Energy Agency has attempted to negotiate an agreement with Ukrainian and Russian authorities to send a team to inspect and secure the plant, but it remained unclear when the visit could take place.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
Andrew Katell contributed to this report from New York.
An earlier version of this story has been corrected to show that the Sloviansk resident’s first name is Kostiantyn, not Konstiantyn.