Russian forces open fire, attack nuclear plant in Zaporizhzhia

Europe's largest nuclear power plant on fire • Belarus forces receive order to enter Ukraine • At least 33 killed in Russian airstrikes on Chernihiv residential area

Surveillance camera footage shows a flare landing at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant during shelling in Enerhodar, Zaporizhia Oblast, Ukraine March 4, 2022, in this screengrab from a video obtained from social media. (photo credit: ZAPORIZHZHYA NPP VIA YOUTUBE/VIA REUTERS)
Surveillance camera footage shows a flare landing at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant during shelling in Enerhodar, Zaporizhia Oblast, Ukraine March 4, 2022, in this screengrab from a video obtained from social media.
(photo credit: ZAPORIZHZHYA NPP VIA YOUTUBE/VIA REUTERS)

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine, the largest of its kind in Europe, was on fire early on Friday after an attack by Russian troops, the mayor of the nearby town of Energodar, where the plant's workers live, said in an online post.

The Associated Press reported an unnamed Ukrainian government official as saying elevated radiation levels had been detected near the plant. A US official, however, said the latest information does not indicate elevated radiation levels. 

The fire reportedly broke out in a training building outside the plant's perimeter after Russian troops attacked. 

US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said on Thursday the reactors at Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station "are protected by robust containment structures and reactors are being safely shut down."

US President Joe Biden spoke with a nuclear security official at the US Energy Department to receive an update on the situation at the plant, the White House said. Biden also reportedly spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky on Thursday evening. 

 Anti-tank constructions are seen in Kyiv, Ukraine, March 3, 2022 (credit: REUTERS/GLEB GARANICH) Anti-tank constructions are seen in Kyiv, Ukraine, March 3, 2022 (credit: REUTERS/GLEB GARANICH)

Russian forces opened fire on Thursday in Energodar, next to Europe's largest nuclear power plant after entering in tanks, Ukrainian interior ministry adviser Anton Herashchenko said in online posts.

At least two Energodar residents were injured by shelling after Russia entered the town, mayor Dmitry Orlov wrote in his Telegram channel.

Earlier on Thursday, three Zaporizhzhia residents were killed in the shelling of a hospital in the city by Russian forces, the civil administration of Zaporizhzhya said on Telegram. Four more were injured, the administration stated.

The Ukrainian military said on Thursday it believed that Belarusian troops have already received the order to cross Ukrainian border. Ukraine has said Russia is using Belarusian territory for missile attacks on Ukrainian cities and Minsk allowed Russian troops to enter Ukrainian territory.

At least 33 bodies have been recovered from the rubble in the wake of Russian airstrikes in Ukraine's Chernihiv region, the Ukrainian emergency services said in an online post.

It said rescue work was ongoing, without specifying where exactly the attack took place. Earlier the regional governor said at least nine people had been killed by an airstrike on two schools and private houses.

Civilians under fire

The UN human rights office said on Thursday that it had confirmed 249 civilians have been killed and 553 injured in Ukraine during the first week of the conflict following Russia's invasion.

The toll, through midnight on Wednesday, rose from the 227 deaths and 525 injured in its previous report a day ago.

"Most of the civilian casualties recorded from 4 a.m. on 24 February 2022 until 12 p.m. midnight on 2 March 2022 were caused by the use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area, including shelling from heavy artillery and multi-launch rocket systems, and missile and airstrikes," it said in a statement.

Air raid sirens were activated a number of times overnight Wednesday throughout Ukraine, with multiple explosions reported in Kyiv overnight.

The city council of Mariupol announced on Thursday that Russian forces had been disrupting the supply of electricity, food, water and heat to the city, and had also damaged rail lines into the city, comparing the situation to the Siege of Leningrad in World War II.

The city council added that it is working to restore critical infrastructure and to establish a humanitarian corridor. "At the same time, Mariupol remains under fire, women, children and the elderly are suffering. We are being destroyed as a nation. This is the genocide of the Ukrainian people."

Eight people, including at least two children, were killed in a Russian airstrike on Izyum, south of Kharkiv, on Wednesday night, according to the deputy chairman of the Izyum city council. A police department building was also hit in the strike.

The deputy mayor of Izyum warned residents to remain in shelters, as Russian forces were bombing the city every 90 minutes, according to Ukrayinska Pravda.

A person was killed and another was injured in a Russian shelling in the village of Hatne near Kyiv on Thursday, according to Ukraine's State Emergency Service.

In Sumy, the area's Regional Military Administration reported that five people were injured in a missile strike on the military department of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), the 27th Rocket Artillery Brigade and the cadet corps.

On Thursday, the head of the administration, Dmytro Zhyvytskyi, said on Telegram that Russian strikes on Sumy left the area without heating or electricity. "Basically, the whole Sumy region is now a territory of hell," he wrote.

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry reported on Thursday morning that four large Russian landing vessels and three missile boats had been seen in the Black Sea heading towards Odessa.

A million people have fled Ukraine in a week after Russia invaded the country, the head of the United Nations refugee agency said on Twitter.

"In just seven days we have witnessed the exodus of one million refugees from Ukraine to neighboring countries," UNHCR head Filippo Grandi posted.

"For many millions more, inside Ukraine, it's time for guns to fall silent, so that life-saving humanitarian assistance can be provided."

A missile or bomb hit a Bangladeshi-owned cargo ship in the Ukrainian Black Sea port of Olvia, killing one of its crew members, and efforts were underway to rescue the others from the vessel, its owner said on Thursday.

"The ship came under attack and one engineer was killed," Pijush Dutta, executive director of Bangladesh Shipping Corp, told Reuters. "It was not clear whether it was a bomb or missile or which side launched the attack. The other 28 crewmen are unharmed," he said, without providing further details.

The Bangladesh-flagged Banglar Samriddhi had been stuck in the port of Olvia since Russia's invasion of Ukraine began on Feb. 24, and was hit by a missile on Wednesday evening, a Bangladeshi foreign ministry official said earlier on Thursday.

In the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka, the Russian Embassy said in an English-language statement on its Facebook page that the circumstances of the incident were “being established”.

"We express deep condolences to the near and dear ones of the deceased. The Russian side bends every effort to ensure the safe departure of the Bangladeshi ship from the port," it said.

Ukrainians claim successes in fight against Russian invaders

Secretary of Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council, Oleksiy Miacheslavovych Danilov, wrote on Facebook that servicemen of the 5th Border Guard Detachment and units of the Armed Forces of Ukraine took control of the state borderline in the Sumy region on Thursday.

The Ukrainian Armed Forces claimed on Thursday morning that they had downed a Russian SU-30 fighter jet over Irpin. A Russian SU-34 fighter jet was also shot down over Volnovakha on Thursday, according to the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

The Armed Forces additionally claimed Thursday that it had killed about 9,000 Russian soldiers and destroyed 217 tanks, 11 anti-aircraft systems, 30 aircraft, 31 helicopters and three UAVs.

Thousands of Ukrainians worked throughout the day to form a barricade to hold back Russian forces nearing Enerhodar, where Europe's largest nuclear power plant is located, according to the city's mayor.

Petro Kotin, president of Energoatom, which runs Ukraine's nuclear power plants, claimed on Thursday that Russian forces who arrived at Enerhodar asked residents to let them in just to take a picture in front of the nuclear plant to send to their superiors, promising that they would leave after doing so, according to UNIAN.

A Thursday morning intelligence update from the UK Defense Ministry stated that the large Russian column advancing on Ukraine's capital was still 30km away from the center of the city due to staunch Ukrainian resistance, mechanical breakdown and congestion. The update added that little discernible progress had been made in over three days.

The cities of Kharkiv, Chernihiv and Mairupol were targeted by heavy Russian shelling but remained under Ukrainian control as of Thursday morning. 

Ukraine warns of "nuclear terrorism," pleads for no-fly zone

The UN nuclear watchdog's board of governors on Thursday passed a resolution criticizing Russia over its invasion of Ukraine and calling on it to let Ukraine control all its nuclear facilities, with just two votes against, diplomats said.

The board said in its resolution that it "deplores the Russian Federation's actions in Ukraine".

Twenty-six countries voted in favor and two voted against with five abstentions, two diplomats said. One diplomat said Russia and China voted against while Pakistan, India, South Africa, Senegal and Vietnam abstained. Mexico and Burundi were absent, they added.

Ukraine asked the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to seek NATO help with closing the air over Ukrainian nuclear sites to prevent act of "nuclear terrorism" by Russia, Kyiv's energy ministry said on Thursday.

Ukraine has 15 nuclear reactors and Russia has already seized the defunct Chernobyl nuclear power plant during its week-long invasion of its neighbor.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called on NATO to implement a no-fly zone over Ukraine, saying "We say very clearly and calmly to our NATO partners that you can think as much as you want about how to avoid a direct confrontation with Russia, but if you do not help us stop it now, a direct confrontation will be inevitable because you will be next," according to Ukrinform.

'We are grateful to you for everything you have done… But now there is a concrete threat that our citizens will continue to be killed from the air… So if you do not take radical steps to strengthen the air force defense of Ukraine, the blood of our dead citizens will be on your hands. Your restraint and your unwillingness to take the next steps - all this gives Russia the opportunity to continue the killings without punishment," said Kuleba.

Zelensky warns Putin: No bunker can protect you from God

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky warned Russian President Vladimir Putin that "No bunker can protect you from God" on Thursday after Russian forces targeted the Cathedral of the Assumption [Uspensky Sobor] in its assault on Kharkiv, according to Ukrayinska Pravda.

"It is a holy place. Now, wrecked by the war. Even this does not deter them! They count on the fact that God’s retribution isn’t instant. But He sees. And answers. You cannot hide from His answers. No bunker can protect you from God’s answers," said Zelensky.

Zelensky additionally announced that the first of 16,000 foreign volunteers had arrived to fight in Ukraine's foreign legion.

The Ukrainian president pointed to how Ukraine had experienced two world wars, three Holodomors, the Holocaust, Chernobyl, the Russian take over of Crimea and the war in eastern Ukraine, saying "if someone thinks that, having overcome all of this, Ukrainians — any of us — will be scared, broken or willing to surrender — he knows nothing about Ukraine, and he has nothing to do in Ukraine," according to Ukrayinska Pravda.