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Kyiv alleges ‘terrorism’ after Russian strike near second nuclear plant

Sept. 19, 2022 Updated Mon., Sept. 19, 2022 at 8:27 p.m.

Ukrainian forces on tanks move along a road outside the eastern Ukrainian city of Lysychansk in June.  (Photo for The Washington Post by Heidi Levine)
Ukrainian forces on tanks move along a road outside the eastern Ukrainian city of Lysychansk in June. (Photo for The Washington Post by Heidi Levine)
By David L. Stern Washington Post

KYIV, Ukraine – Ukrainian officials accused Russia of “nuclear terrorism” on Monday after a rocket reportedly hit just hundreds of yards from the reactors at Ukraine’s second-largest nuclear power plant, disabling three high-voltage electricity lines and a hydropower unit, and blowing out windows.

Energoatom, the Ukrainian national nuclear power company, said that a “powerful explosion occurred” roughly 300 yards from the reactors of the Southern Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant, which is located near the city of Yuzhnoukrainsk, just after midnight on Monday, sending shock waves that damaged buildings and shattered more than 100 windows.

Details of the rocket strike, which Energoatom reported on its Telegram channel, could not be independently verified. But Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy posted a short video in his own Telegram channel of what appeared to be footage of the strike taken from a closed-circuit camera, along with photos of the subsequent damage.

“Russia endangers the whole world,” Zelenskyy wrote in the post. “We have to stop it before it’s too late.”

Fears that Russia’s war in Ukraine could cause a nuclear catastrophe had focused so far on the country’s largest atomic energy station, in Zaporizhzhia, where all six reactors have now been shut down. Repeated shelling and fires had disconnected the Zaporizhzhia plant from the national electricity grid, requiring emergency back measures to prevent essential cooling procedures from being interrupted.

Energoatom called the rocket strike an act “of nuclear terrorism carried out by the Russian military.” Russia did not immediately comment on the allegation.

A team of inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency has visited the Zaporizhzhia plant, and the agency’s director general, Rafael Mariano Grossi, has called for the establishment of a “nuclear safety and security protection zone” around the facility, which is located in territory currently occupied by Russian forces.

On Saturday, Grossi reported that the Zaporizhzhia plant had been reconnected to the national electrical grid but that three out of four power lines were still cut and, he said, “the general situation for the plant located in the middle of a war zone remains precarious.” Even with the six reactors in “cold shutdown state,” Grossi said, “they still require power to maintain necessary safety functions.”

The Southern Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant is located away from the front-line fighting, about 250 miles west of the Zaporizhzhia plant, and so faces somewhat less risk. The rocket strike appeared to be part of a barrage of attacks on civilian infrastructure that Russia unleashed following its messy retreat from the northeast Kharkiv region.

The Kremlin’s top spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, on Monday did push back against new allegations of war crimes against Russian troops, which emerged in recent days in Izyum and other Ukrainian cities liberated in Kharkiv. Since Russian forces withdrew, Ukrainian officials have been documenting evidence of potential atrocities, including killings, sexual assaults and torture.

“This is the same scenario as in Bucha,” Peskov said, referring to the Kyiv suburb where atrocities were discovered in April after Russian forces were repelled in their attempt to conquer the Ukrainian capital. “Everything develops according to one scenario; this a lie,” Peskov told journalists in his daily conference call Monday. He added that Russia would “defend the truth in this whole story.”

The grisly discovery in Izyum of a burial site of 445 unmarked graves, and a mass grave containing the bodies of 17 Ukrainian soldiers, have set off renewed calls for Russian troops, military commanders and officials to be prosecuted for war crimes.

The messy retreat from Kharkiv has revealed even deeper than expected weaknesses in the Russian military, with analysts and experts saying that it would be difficult if not impossible for Russia to recapture the liberated territories without a full-scale military mobilization and national draft.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has come under increasing pressure over the war, including a stunning public reprimand delivered by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi when the two men appeared together at a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, last week. At the same summit, Putin acknowledged questions and concerns about the war from Chinese President Xi Jinping.

At home, Putin is being squeezed by right-wing hawks who are demanding that he hit back harder at Ukraine and declare a national draft, and from the left by critics of the war, who seem increasingly willing to brave the risk of arrest and prosecution for speaking out, given the Kremlin has outlawed public criticism of what it refers to as a “special military operation.”

In a stunning development, Alla Pugacheva, 73, Russia’s biggest pop icon, who rose to fame in Soviet times, and is particularly beloved by older people, publicly voiced her opposition to the war on Sunday.

In a post on Instagram, where she has 3.4 million followers, Pugacheva asserted that Russians were dying needlessly for “illusory aims.”

Pugacheva, who has been married five times, used the post to defend her current husband, comedian Maxim Galkin, who has been branded by Russian authorities as a “foreign agent” – a designation given to hundreds of activists, journalists, opposition figures, human rights lawyers and news organizations.

Pugacheva demanded to be named a “foreign agent” herself, and wrote that Galkin was “a true and incorruptible Russian patriot, who only wishes for prosperity, peace and freedom of expression in his motherland.” He wanted “the end of the deaths of our boys for illusory goals that make our country a pariah and weigh heavily on the lives of its citizens,” she wrote.

Galkin has made several antiwar statements, but Pugacheva’s status as a pop diva with a career spanning back to the 1960s lends her criticisms more resonance than those of other well-known cultural figures who left the country after the invasion, including Russia’s most popular rap stars, Morgenstern and Oxxxymiron.

Pugacheva’s Instagram post got 600,000 likes in less than a day – considerably more than her previous posts, which typically received a maximum of 300,000 to 400,000 likes.

The Washington Post’s Robyn Dixon and Natalia Abbakumova in Riga, Latvia, contributed to this report.

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