Scores of people were trying to evacuate from villages near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear-power plant, Ukrainian officials said, as an explosion cut off access to electricity and water at a nearby town.
Electricity and water supplies in Enerhodar, Ukraine, were stopped after residents reported a powerful explosion Tuesday that shook the town, said Mayor Dmytro Orlov. Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk appealed for Russia to allow civilians from the area—which is controlled by Russian forces—to cross into Ukrainian-held territory.
“People are turning to us en masse for help. They are trying to leave this dangerous territory,” Ms. Vereshchuk said. “We once again appeal to the Russian Federation with the demand to provide us with a humanitarian corridor for the evacuation of women, children and the elderly.”
The appeal came as United Nations inspectors released a report on the state of the nuclear plant, Europe’s largest, after weeks of trading accusations with Moscow over which side is responsible for damage to the facility. Ukraine has accused Russia of deliberately shelling the plant, while Russia has blamed Ukrainian forces positioned across the Dnipro River.
The International Atomic Energy Agency report detailed damage done to the nuclear plant and warned of the high stress environment for staff there. The IAEA said that among the facilities damaged were a building housing the central alarm station, a container where the radiation-monitoring system is located and a special building housing fresh nuclear fuel and the solid radioactive storage facility. IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi called for the establishment of a safety zone around the site as soon as possible to limit the risks.
“The current situation is untenable and the best action to ensure the safety and security of Ukraine’s nuclear facilities and its people would be for this armed conflict to end now,” the report said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky asked for more specifics on the safety zone proposal. “If the content of this proposal is to demilitarize the territory of the nuclear power plant…then we can support such a demilitarized protection zone,’’ he said in his nightly address Tuesday.
“I believe that the world not only deserves, but also needs the representatives of the IAEA to force Russia to demilitarize the territory of the NPP and return full control to Ukraine.’’
The IAEA said radiation levels at Ukraine’s four nuclear sites, including Zaporizhzhia, remain normal, and the agency reported that there was no evidence of any removal of nuclear material from Zaporizhzhia, which has six reactors.
Last week, the IAEA sent a team of 14 inspectors to the plant to assess damage and check safety at the plant. Some of the inspectors left on Monday after completing the work, but the IAEA is leaving a two-person team at the plant for the foreseeable future, Mr. Grossi said last week.
Enerhodar’s Russian-installed head, Alexander Volga, accused Ukraine of attacking the town, and said the assaults resulted in fuel leaking into the water supply for the nuclear plant, according to Russian state news agencies.
Also Tuesday, the local Russian-installed government said on its Telegram channel that Ukrainian forces used a drone to shell the local passport office, where Russian passports were issued.
Officials in Kyiv and the West have said Russia’s ultimate goal in occupying the plant, which Ukraine says is patrolled by hundreds of Russian soldiers, is to sever it completely from Ukraine’s grid and reconnect it to Russia’s.
Mr. Zelensky warned Monday that the Zaporizhzhia plant was again in jeopardy after shelling disconnected it from the grid. Ukraine’s energy operator said that a fire caused by Russian shelling had severed a power transmission line, effectively disconnecting the plant from Ukraine’s electricity grid—the latest in a series of incidents that have raised international concerns about a nuclear accident.
“The last power transmission line connecting the plant to the energy system of Ukraine was damaged due to another Russian provocative shelling,” Mr. Zelensky said.
The timing of the shelling, Mr. Zelensky said, revealed Russia’s disregard for the IAEA and the international community.
“Russia is interested only in keeping the situation the worst for the longest time possible,” he said.
The IAEA visit had fueled hopes that fighting around the plant might end. Officials have recently managed to overcome damage to other power lines by keeping reserve lines operating. It was unclear if the reserve lines had been damaged by the latest attack.
Before the war, the 6.7 gigawatt facility provided about a fifth of Ukraine’s total electricity.
Demand for power has been much weaker in Ukraine since the start of the war but that is expected to change as winter approaches.
Meanwhile, two explosions rang out in the center of Berdyansk, a southern city occupied by Russian forces early in the war, local Russian-installed officials said Tuesday. One of the blasts targeted the car of the city’s Russian-installed military commander, Artem Bardin, who died after being taken to the hospital with serious injuries, the officials said. Russian state media published videos showing dark smoke billowing over the city center with the firing of automatic weapons ringing out in the background.
As Russian President Vladimir Putin seeks to regain the offensive in Ukraine, a U.S. official said the Russian Defense Ministry is in the process of purchasing millions of rockets and artillery shells from North Korea for use on the battlefield.
“This purchase indicates that the Russian military continues to suffer from severe supply shortages in Ukraine, due in part to export controls and sanctions,” according to the U.S. official.
—Laurence Norman and Olya Fokaf contributed to this article.
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