- Fierce fighting in the area around the largest nuclear power plant
- No signs of high radiation – US Energy Czech
- The United States and the United Kingdom attacked the oligarchy with further sanctions
LVV, Ukraine, March 4 (Reuters) – A fire broke out in a training building at Europe’s largest nuclear power plant during a fierce battle between Russian and Ukrainian forces, the Ukrainian state emergency service said on Friday.
U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Gronholm said there was no sign of rising radiation levels at the Zaporizhzhia plant, which supplies more than a fifth of Ukraine’s total electricity.
A video feed of the plant, verified by Reuters, showed shells and smoke rising near the building on the plant premises.
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Scenes filmed at night showed a building on fire and a barrage of bombs coming in, before a large candle ball exploded near the car park, sending smoke billowing across the premises.
The mayor of the nearby town of Enerkot, about 550 km (342 miles) southeast of Kiev, said heavy fighting and a “continuous enemy shell attack” caused casualties in the area without providing details.
Thousands of people have been killed or injured and more than 1 million refugees have fled Ukraine since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a major offensive against a European state after World War II last Thursday.
Initial reports of an incident at the power plant spun financial markets in Asia, with stocks falling and oil prices rising further.
“Markets are worried about a nuclear downturn. The risk is miscalculation or overreaction and the war will continue,” said Vasu Menon, managing director of OCBC Bank’s investment strategy.
Russia has already seized the defunct Chernobyl plant about 100 km north of Kyiv, which, when it melted in 1986, emitted much of its radioactive waste. Some researchers have suggested that the Zaporizhzhia plant may be a different and safer variety.
US President Joe Biden spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zhelensky about the situation at the plant.
“President Biden, along with President Zhelensky, urged Russia to suspend its military operations in the area and to allow firefighters and emergency responders to access the base,” the White House said in a statement.
Energy Secretary Granholm said on Twitter that the reactors in Zaporizhia were “protected by strong control structures” and “safely closed”.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in a tweet that it was “aware of reports of missile strikes” at the plant and was in contact with Ukrainian authorities.
Mount fighting angers, obstacles
On Thursday, negotiators in Russia and Ukraine acknowledged the need for humanitarian corridors to help civilians escape and provide medicine and food to war-torn areas.
Mikhail Podoliyak, an adviser to the Ukrainian president, said it was possible to suspend fighting in selected areas.
The negotiators will meet again next week, the Belarusian state news agency Belda Podoliyak was quoted as saying.
The only Ukrainian city since the invasion began on February 24, only the southern port of Gersen fell to Russian forces, but Russian forces continue to encircle other cities.
The main port of the Sea of Azov was surrounded by Mariupol and subjected to heavy bombardment. Water and electricity have been cut off and officials say the injured cannot be evacuated.
A video posted on Twitter from Mariupol, checked by Reuters, showed parked vehicles burning, and relentless gunfire echoed around the surrounding apartments.
The northeastern city of Kharkiv has been under attack since the beginning of the invasion, but the guards have stayed in the heavily shelled city.
Although no major offensive has been launched in Kiev, the capital has come under shell attack, and Russian forces have unleashed catastrophic firing to quell opposition in the suburbs of Borodianka.
In Washington, D.C., a U.S. defense official said Russian troops were still 25 kilometers (16 miles) from downtown Kiev. Earlier on Thursday, the British Ministry of Defense said a large Russian convoy was heading south towards Kiev, advancing slowly, partly due to resistance, but also due to logical problems.
As pressure on the Kremlin increased, the United States and Britain on Thursday announced sanctions on more Russian oligarchy, following EU action.
Several companies, including Alphabet Inc. (GOOGL.O) Google, shoe company Nike and Swedish home decor company IKEA have closed or reduced their operations in Russia as trade restrictions and supply restrictions add to political pressure. read more
Biden said the sanctions “already have a profound impact.”
Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special operation” not intended to occupy territory, but to overthrow the democratically elected government, destroy the military capabilities of its neighbors and seize what it considers dangerous nationalists. It refuses to target the public.
Gary Kasparov, a Russian human rights activist and former world chess champion, has called on the West to expel Russia from the international police agency Interpol and impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine.
“Russia must be pushed back to the Stone Age to ensure that the oil and gas industry and any other key industries essential to the regime’s survival cannot function without the support of Western technology,” Kasparov said.
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Report by Pavel Polityuk, Natalia Zinets, Aleksandar Vasovic in Ukraine, David Ljunggren in Ottawa and other Reuters bureau; Written by Costas Pitas and Lincoln Feast; Editing Stephen Coates & Simon Cameron-Moore
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