ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine — A bombing near a nuclear complex in southern Ukraine killed a foreman at the facility at his home in a nearby town, Ukrainian officials said Sunday.
The Ukrainian company that oversees the country’s nuclear power plants, Energoatom, said Russia had aimed at least six shells at the town of Enerhodar, where most of the workers at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant live.
The city is under Russian occupation and the Russians have blamed the Ukrainians for the bombing of the giant nuclear complex – the largest in Europe – and nearby residential areas, which has raised alarm bells around the world. However, the Ukrainians said it was the Russians who fired on the civilians, suggesting the intention was to discredit the Ukrainian military.
A statement posted by Energoatom on Telegram identified the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant employee who was killed as Marko Maksym Petrovych and said two other workers were injured and were receiving medical treatment.
Shelling in and around the factory in recent days has triggered a flight of civilians from the area.
The Zaporizhzhia power plant is the first active nuclear complex to be taken into a combat zone. Forty-two countries called on Russia to “immediately withdraw” its forces from the factory, in a statement dated Friday and published on Sunday by the European Union.
The United States and the European Union have called for the creation of a demilitarized zone, as fighting in and around the plant and its active reactors and stored nuclear waste has raised concerns that a errant strike and resulting fire could cause meltdown or release radiation. .
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his late-night address on Saturday that Russia had used “nuclear blackmail” at the complex, reiterating a Ukrainian analysis that Moscow was using it to slow down a Ukrainian counteroffensive against the city of Kherson, occupied by Russia, where Russian conventional military defenses seem increasingly wobbly.
Contrary to the fears of some analysts when Moscow launched its invasion in February, the most pressing nuclear threat in the war in Ukraine now appears to be Russia damaging the civilian power plant, rather than deploying its own nuclear weapons.
Engineers say the meter-thick reinforced concrete containment structures protect the reactors from even direct hits. However, the international community became concerned that the bombardment could start a fire or cause other damage that would lead to a nuclear accident.
The complex’s six pressurized water reactors retain most radiation sources, reducing the risk. After the breakdown of pressurized water reactors at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear complex in 2011, Ukraine upgraded the Zaporizhzhia site to allow shutdown even after the loss of cooling water from outside the containment structures, said Dmytro Gortenko, a former engineer at the plant, in an interview.
Ukraine’s military intelligence agency said on Saturday Russian artillery fire hit a pump, damaged a fire station and caused fires near the factory that could not be immediately extinguished due to the damage caused at the fire station.
In fields near Enerhodar, long lines of cars carrying fleeing civilians formed on Saturday, according to social media posts and another former plant engineer who has kept in touch with local residents.
“People are abandoning the city,” said the former engineer, who asked to be identified only by his first name, Oleksiy, for security reasons. Residents had been leaving for weeks, but the pace picked up after Saturday’s blockades and fires, he said.
Since Russia captured the plant in March, its military has controlled the facility, while Ukrainian engineers have continued to operate it.
Ukrainian employees are not fleeing but sending their families away, said Oleksiy, who left in June. Enerhodar was built for factory employees in Soviet times and had a population of around 50,000 before the war.
Ukraine has accused Russia of staging artillery attacks targeting Ukrainian towns across the Dnipro River from the factory from July as the Ukrainian counteroffensive in the south intensified. .
On Sunday morning Russian howitzers fired at the Ukrainian town of Nikopol, which sits across from a reservoir of the power plant, Yevheny Yetushenko, the Ukrainian military governor of the town, said in a post on Telegram.
The Ukrainian military said it had few options to retaliate. In July, he used a self-destructing drone to hit a Russian artillery launcher that was about 150 meters from one of the plant’s reactors.