Russian-Ukrainian war: towns near the Ukrainian nuclear power plant bombed

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian rocket and artillery fire hit areas across the Dnieper River from Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, Ukrainian officials said on Sunday, as fears lingered that nearby fighting could damage the plant and cause a radiation leak.

Russian forces took control of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant shortly after the start of the war and hold the adjacent territory along the left bank of the wide river. Ukraine controls the right bank, including the towns of Nikopol and Marhanets, each about 10 kilometers (six miles) from the plant.

Heavy gunfire overnight left parts of Nikopol without power, said Valentyn Reznichenko, governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region. Rocket fire damaged a dozen residences in Marhanets, according to Yevhen Yevtushenko, the head of the district administration which includes the city of around 45,000 people.

The town of Zaporizhzhia, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) upstream from the nuclear power plant, also came under fire overnight, wounding two people, city council member Anatoliy Kurtev said.

In eastern Ukraine, where Russian and separatist forces are trying to take control, shelling hit the strategically important cities of Kramatorsk and Sloviansk, but no casualties were reported, said Pavlo Kyrylenko, governor of the Donetsk region.

Much of the Donetsk region is held by Russian and separatist forces. It is one of two Ukrainian regions that Russia has recognized as sovereign states.

Last week, authorities began distributing iodine tablets to residents who live near the Zaporizhzhia plant in case of radiation exposure, which can cause health problems.

Much of the concern centers on the plant’s nuclear reactor cooling systems. The systems need power to operate, and the plant was temporarily taken offline on Thursday due to what officials said was fire damage to a transmission line. Failure of the cooling system could cause nuclear meltdown.

Russian forces occupied the nuclear power plant complex at the start of the 6-month war, but local Ukrainian workers kept it running. The Ukrainian and Russian governments have repeatedly accused each other of bombing the complex and nearby areas, raising fears of a possible catastrophe.

Periodic bombings have damaged the plant’s infrastructure, Ukrainian nuclear operator Energoatom said on Saturday. “There are risks of hydrogen leakage and spraying of radioactive substances, and the risk of fire is high,” he said.

The UN’s atomic energy agency tried to broker a deal to send a team to inspect and help secure the plant. Officials said preparations for the visit were underway, but it was still unclear when it might take place.

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Christi C. Elwood