Putin's forces attacked Europe's largest nuclear power plant at Zaporizhzhia in Ukraine. Experts have warned that the power shutdown resulting from the Russian troop's attack could cause the nuclear power plant to suffer a Fukushima-style meltdown.
This power plant creates about 20% of Ukraine's electricity. CCTV captured a fierce gun battle between Russian troops and Ukrainian defenders in the early hours of Friday.
This sparked a fire in the six-story building outside the main complex.
Firefighters could not get to the building for several hours as the Russian army prevented them.
According to nuclear experts, this incident was as "frightening" as what happened to Fukushima in 2011. Following a major earthquake, a 15-meter tsunami disabled the power supply and cooling of three Fukushima Daiichi reactors, causing a nuclear accident.
What is happening in Zaporizhzhia is said to be more like Fukushima than Chernobyl that exploded after a training exercise went wrong, causing an uncontrolled nuclear reaction in 1986.
Why Would Russia Attack The Plant?
According to Claire Corkhill, a professor of nuclear materials at Sheffield University, the reactors at Zaporizhzhia seem to be shutting down to avoid a Fukushima meltdown. This might have been Russia's intention for attacking the plant.
Emergency crews were later allowed to access the plant to douse the flames before Russian troops took over the site. Reports from the U.N.'s nuclear monitoring agency show that none of the six reactors in the area had been directly damaged. Radiation levels were also reportedly normal.
Kyiv said that only three Ukrainian soldiers were killed while defending the complex.
In a quest to relieve itself of any blame regarding the incident, Moscow attempted to deny responsibility for the attack by saying that its forces had been patrolling the plant when Ukrainian "saboteurs" attacked them and set the fire.
At the U.N. Security Council on Friday, Vassily Nebenzia, Moscow's ambassador to the U.N., said:
"These statements are simply untrue. This is all part of an unprecedented campaign of lies and disinformation against Russia."
He claimed that while Russian troops had exchanged fire with Ukrainian forces at the power plant in Zaporizhzhia, they had not shelled the facility.
Besides the plant at Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine is home to three other active nuclear power plants and five out-of-action sites.
One of the operational plants, located 70 miles from Mykolaiv, has been under attack from Russian forces since they seized nearby Kherson.
The two other active sites located in the west are not currently under attack, although the situation could change as Russia branches out its attack. The five inactive sites, including Chernobyl, could also risk being hit by shells.
President Zelensky spoke on how disastrous the attack at Zaporizhzhia could have been. He said it could have caused a crisis equivalent to "six Chernobyls." While the Soviet-era disaster-affected only one reactor, this modern-day plant had six.
When the 33ft-high tsunami that killed nearly 19,000 people crashed into Japan's Fukushima plant in 2011, it led to several meltdowns that caused harmful radioactive fuel rods and debris to escape from contained areas.
A decade after that disaster, researchers still struggle to clean up these fuels. It is estimated that plant officials have only located 10% of the waste fuel left behind after the meltdown.
It is also believed that the damaged plant is leaking small quantities of radioactive waste into the Pacific Ocean, traveling down to the west coast of the United States.
For Fukushima, many people had to evacuate. Authorities have been urging them to return but Fukushima's population, which used to be around 2 million in the pre-disaster period, has more than halved.
This threat comes as this war between Russia and Ukraine enters its ninth day while showing no signs of stopping as talks between the two sides yesterday yielded no agreement.
Vladimir Putin later went on T.V. to declare that he would keep aiming for "total victory." He also spouted propaganda claiming that its "special operation" was proceeding on time and that its primary objectives were completed as scheduled. He added that Russian forces are not deliberately attacking civilians.
Ukraine's third-largest city and main port, Odesa, is also speedily at risk of coming under siege. Mykolaiv, located along the road to Odesa and west of Kherson, now under Russian control, came under attack on Friday morning. Its mayor said that troops had moved into the outskirts of the city.
Mariupol, on the other side of the Crimean peninsula, is under heavy bombardment. Russian troops keep trying to bomb it into submission, probably in a quest to cut off Ukraine's access to the Black Sea, denying its government access to lucrative trading routes.
Ukraine's special forces have also ambushed and destroyed Russian tanks and armored vehicles at Hostomel and Brovary. Amid fears that Russia's 40-mile convoy stalled outside Kyiv would encircle the city and bombard it, Ukraine claims its jet has targetted a part of the convoy.
Also, Chernihiv and Kharkiv have braced for heavier shelling after more and more indiscriminate attacks from Russian troops have left dozens of civilians dead. Chernihiv officials revealed that 47 people have died from yesterday's attack.
Boris Johnson has also accused Russia of "threatening the security of the whole of Europe" after the Zaporizhzhia incident. After a phone call with President Zelensky, who called it "nuclear terrorism," he condemned the attack, terming it "reckless."
Jen Stoltenberg, who was in Brussels to meet with NATO allies, condemned Russia's attack on civilian infrastructure and emphasized that the fire at the plant spelled the need to end the war as soon as possible.
President Putin has also been upping his efforts to counter internal dissatisfaction, especially as his attacks continue to prove fiercer than anticipated. In contrast, western sanctions continue to destroy significant parts of Russia's economy.
Russia's parliament approved new laws on Friday stating that anyone spreading "fake news" about the invasion would be jailed for 15 years.
Prior to this, Putin had threatened and shut down T.V. and radio stations that referred to the "war" and "invasion" of Ukraine as such, preferring the "special military operation" tag.
Facebook has been blocked, while Moscow admits to restricting news from the BBC, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Meduza, and Germany's D.W. It also has limited news from outside sources getting into the country.
Thousands of Russian citizens asking for the conflict to end in peaceful protests have been arrested as they march in rallies.
Today, diplomats from the E.U., NATO, and G7 will hold a series of meetings to discuss what's next with the crisis, calls for more military support for Ukraine, reinforcing NATO's eastern flank in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, and how to support non-NATO states like Moldova and Georgia.
President Vladimir Zelensky has reportedly "survived three assassination attempts in the past week."
Since Russia's invasion started last week, mercenaries from the Kremlin-backed Wagner group and Chechen special forces have been allegedly sent to kill the Ukrainian president.
The Times reported that the assassins were foiled by subversive anti-war members within Russia's successor to the KGB, the Federal Security Service (FSB), who alerted Ukraine officials.
The assassination attempts were confirmed by Ukraine's Secretary of Nation Security, who told the local press that he had gotten heads-up from double agents "who do not want to take part in this bloody war."
The Wagner Group infiltrated Ukraine with a 24-name kill list. If the assassination attempt had been successful, Putin would have easily been able to deny any involvement.
A source told the Times:
"They would be going in there with a very high-profile mission, something that the Russians would want to be deniable - a decapitation of a head of state is a huge mission. In terms of the impact on Russian sovereign policy, this would be perhaps their biggest mission so far. It would have a major impact on the war."
The Wagner Group is a Russian paramilitary organization, an army-for-hire group run by Putin's close ally often called Putin's chef, oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin. They had flown in five weeks ago and were being offered a huge sum of money for the mission.
These highly-trained operatives were said to have been waiting on the Kremlin's order to pounce just a few days ago. Asides from the president, their hit list contains Ukraine's prime minister, the entire cabinet, the mayor of Kyiv Vitali Klitschko, and his brother Wladimir.
Their plan failed when the Ukrainian government declared a 36-hour "hard" curfew ordering everyone to stay indoors so that Ukrainian soldiers could sweep the streets for these Russian saboteurs.
In a video posted on Friday morning, President Zelensky called on Russia to stop its attack on the nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhia. He said:
"You know the word Chernobyl. No country other than Russia has ever fired on nuclear power units. This is the first time in our history. In the history of mankind. The terrorist state now resorted to nuclear terror."
He also urged:
"Europe needs to wake up. The biggest nuclear power plant in Europe is on fire right now. Russian tanks are shooting at the nuclear blocks. These are tanks equipped with thermal imagers, so they know what they are aiming at."
Meanwhile, Russia continues to get boycotted. On Friday, Airbnb pulled out of the country following Shell, Apple, Nike, Ikea, B.P., and HSBC.
Its CEO, Brian Chesky, tweeted: "Airbnb is suspending all operations in Russia and Belarus." He also added a Ukrainian flag to his Twitter profile.
This adds to the US-tech freeze-out of Moscow that has been happening since Russia invaded Ukraine.
Major corporations across various industries have been freezing their businesses in the country. Apple halted all product sales in Russia and limited the use of Apple Pay. Facebook, YouTube, and Microsoft aim to curb the reach of state-linked news outlets in Russia.
A statement by Intel read:
"Intel condemns the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, and we have suspended all shipments to customers in both Russia and Belarus. Our thoughts are with everyone who has been impacted by this war."
The United Nations said that one million refugees had left Ukraine since the war started. Airbnb announced on Monday that it would offer free short-term stays for up to 100,000 people fleeing the fight in Ukraine.
This echoes what the vacation-rentals platform did in August when it extended similar aid to people fleeing Afghanistan after the Taliban took over. It has been facing scrutiny over its presence in China in the past few weeks.
NATO's foreign ministers also met with Canada's top diplomat Melanie Joly to discuss their next steps in the war. She said that "all options," which includes a no-fly zone over Ukraine, should be addressed.
While President Zelensky has been calling for a zone over Ukraine to stop Russian jets from bombing cities, creating such a zone would require NATO aircraft and anti-aircraft batteries intervening directly in the war. Moscow would almost certainly view this as a declaration of war.
Hence, Joly stressed that NATO's top priority is to stop the Ukrainian war from turning into a world war and that she is not in favor of a no-fly zone but wants "to make sure scenarios are being discussed."
Lithuania would be on the frontlines if a fight should break out between Russia and NATO. The Prime Minister of Lithuania thus said that demands for a no-fly zone are "irresponsible."
As the invasion enters its second week, talks between Russia and Ukraine yielded a provisional agreement that allows a safe corridor to evacuate citizens and deliver humanitarian aid.
While the damage to the nuclear power plant has the nuclear authorities worried, they are not panicked. The U.S. Department of Energy activated its nuclear incident response team as a precaution.
The nuclear plant spokesman Andriy Tuz had earlier told Ukrainian television that shells fell directly on the facility and set fire to one of its six reactors. The reactor is under renovation and not operating.
Measurements taken by the Zaporizhzhia regional military administration at 7 a.m. on Friday (0500 GMT) showed that radiation levels were normal. It remained "unchanged and do not endanger the lives and health of the population."
Dmytro Orlov, the mayor of Enerhodar, announced via his Telegram channel that the fire at the nuclear plant had indeed been extinguished. According to what his office told The Associated Press, this comes from firefighters at the site overnight.
According to a statement from British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's office, he called for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council to discuss Russia's attack on the nuclear power plant in "coming hours."
While most experts saw nothing that indicates a pending disaster, President Zelensky said that he feared an explosion that would be "the end for everyone. The end for Europe. The evacuation of Europe."
"Only urgent action by Europe can stop the Russian troops. Do not allow the death of Europe from a catastrophe at a nuclear power station."
U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm tweeted that the plant's reactors were protected by robust containment structures and safely shut down.
The International Atomic Energy Agency also said that the fire had not affected any essential equipment. The American Nuclear Society also supported these claims saying that the latest radiation levels remained within natural background levels.
The group said in a statement:
"The real threat to Ukrainian lives continues to be the violent invasion and bombing of their country."
According to the mayor of Enerhodar, the shelling stopped a few hours before dawn, and over 50,000 of the city's residents who had to stay in shelters over the night were able to return home. However, the city awoke to no heat because the shelling damaged it's heating main.
Over the past few days, Putin's forces have made a show of their superior firepower, launching hundreds of missiles on cities in Ukraine. They have also been making significant gains in the south.
Since the invasion began a week ago, Russia has captured one of Ukraine's major cities, Kherson. It is a vital Black Sea port of 280,000. On Thursday, the Russian airstrike also destroyed the power plant in Okhtyrka, leaving the city without heat and electricity.
Dmytro Zhyvytskyy said they are trying to get people out of the city because "in a day the apartment buildings will turn into a cold stone trap without water, light, or electricity."
A military base between Kharkiv and Kyiv was attacked in the first days of the war, and more than 70 Ukrainian soldiers were killed.
Heavy fighting outside Mariupol has also left the city without electricity, heat, water, phone services, even food delivery.
An Associated Press video of this port city showed medical teams treating civilians, including one 16-year-old boy who unfortunately died. His father explained as he wept that his son had just been playing soccer when the shelling wounded him.
Russia's attack on Ukraine's port cities would severe its access to the Black and Azov seas, which would affect Ukraine's economy and allow Russia to build a land corridor to Crimea, which it seized in 2014.
Although Russia expected swift victory, Ukraine, although outnumbered and outgunned, has put up an unexpected resistance.
Authorities in Ukraine have called on its people to defend their homeland and have even issued weapons to civilians. Oleksiy Arestovich, an aide to Zelensky, said in a video message:
"Total resistance... This is our Ukrainian trump card, and this is what we can do best in the world."
The second round of talks between Russian and Ukrainian delegations took place in Belarus while Putin warned Ukraine to declare itself neutral, renounce its bid to join NATO, and accept the Kremlin's demand for "demilitarization."
According to French President Emmanuel Macron's office, Putin is determined to press on with his attack "to the end."
The third round of talks is expected to be held next week, said Zelensky's adviser.
Even with considerable evidence of civilian casualties and many destroyed properties, Putin insists that his troops use "only precision weapons to exclusively destroy military infrastructure" while decrying what he calls an "anti-Russian disinformation campaign."
He also asserts, without evidence, that Ukrainian"neo-Nazis" were preventing people from leaving the country even though the Russian military had already offered safe corridors and that they were being used as human shields.
Before the attack on Zaporizhzhia, Ukrainian civilians had built makeshift roadblocks on Wednesday. They had used bright orange lorries and piles of tires to create this barricade on the main route to the nuclear power plant.
Also, an army of volunteers waving the Ukrainian flag had created a human barricade near Enerhodar in a quest to stop the advancing Russian troops. The blockade was reportedly one kilometer long.
Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine's interior ministry, wrote on Facebook: "Because of Putin's madness, Europe is again on the brink of a nuclear catastrophe... Radiation does not know nationalities, does not spare anyone!"
Russia has written to the International Atomic Energy Agency saying that its forces have taken control of the area surrounding the plant and claims that technicians at the plant were still working, "providing nuclear safety and monitoring radiation in a normal mode of operation."
The Ukrainian people's everyday heroism showed how they tried to protect Zaporizhzhia. Wladimir, the brother of Kyiv's mayor, said:
"This is our home. Our parents are buried here, our children go to school here. Why should we flee? What would you do if someone gets in to your house? You defend it."