Fighting around a Ukrainian nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe, has stoked fears of an international nuclear disaster, and global leaders are voicing concerns.
Foreign ministers from the Group of Seven, an intergovernmental political forum of leading industrialized countries, demanded Wednesday that Russia return control of the plant to Ukraine, Reuters reported.
Russian troops took over the Zaporizhzhia plant in southern Ukraine, one of the 10 largest nuclear plants in the world, shortly after invading the country in February. Before the war, the plant accounted for about half the electricity generated by nuclear power in Ukraine.
Ukrainian operators have been kept in place to run the plant. But conflict around the facility has fueled fears of nuclear disaster similar to that in Chernobyl, which saw the world’s worst nuclear accident in 1986.
Rafael Mariano Grossi, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told The Associated Press last week that the conflict near the Zaporizhzhia plant “is completely out of control” as he pleaded with Russia and Ukraine to allow inspectors to visit the site. Grossi said the supply chain for equipment to the plant has been interrupted, and there have been reports of violence between Russian troops and Ukrainian staff members.
“What is at stake is extremely serious and extremely grave and dangerous,” Grossi said.
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►Ukraine accused Russia of using its position near the nuclear power plant to target the nearby town of Marhanets in a rocket attack that killed at least 13 people, Reuters reported. Russia did not immediately comment on the allegations.
►Slovakia, one of three European countries that had their oil shipments from Russia halted after a problem over payments, said the problem has been resolved and deliveries are arriving again. But the Czech Republic and Hungary said they have not received their shipments yet.
►Hundreds of Bulgarians took to the streets of the capital city of Sofia, voicing fears that the country’s caretaker government could break with the policies of its pro-Western predecessor and revert to close energy ties with Russia.
►While the European Union moved to block two of Russia’s top propaganda and misinformation channels – RT and Sputnik – early in the war, NewsGuard, a New York-based firm that tracks online misinformation, has identified 250 websites spreading propaganda and disinformation and dozens of new sites in recent months.
A Russian journalist who was fined three times for criticizing the war in Ukraine has now been detained and faces 10 years in prison if convicted, her lawyer said.
Marina Ovsyannikova, who rose to international fame in March when she held up an anti-war sign behind the anchor of a news broadcast on state-funded Channel One, has been charged with spreading false information about Russia’s armed forces, lawyer Dmitry Zakhvatov said in a Telegram post. Ovsyannikova’s home was raided and she was taken for questioning Wednesday, he said.
Ovsyannikova, born to an Ukrainian father and a Russian mother, quit her job as a Channel One producer and became an activist after her initial protest, which led to her arrest and a fine.
In July, she held up a banner calling out Russian President Vladimir Putin that said: “Putin is a killer, his soldiers are fascists. 352 children have been killed (in Ukraine). How many more children should die for you to stop?”
Shortly after invading Ukraine in February, Russia passed a law that penalizes statements against the military with up to 10 years in prison. According to Net Freedoms, a legal aid group focusing on free speech cases, as of Wednesday there were 79 criminal cases on charges of spreading false information about the military and up to 4,000 administrative cases on charges of disparaging the armed forces.
Russian citizens have to endure state scrutiny of what they say, a struggling economy and international condemnation for their country’s invasion of Ukraine. On top of that, some of their favorite stores are leaving.
Affordable furniture seller IKEA and clothing retailer H&M are selling off their remaining inventory in Russia this week as they join the huge list of companies exiting the country because of the war in Ukraine.
More than 1,000 companies have ended or curtailed operations in Russia, according to the Yale School of Management, including McDonald’s, Reebok, Salesforce, Shell and U.S. airlines Delta and American. Some have departed in protest of the Kremlin’s attack on a neighboring nation, others because business conditions have become too unpredictable or untenable.
At the Moscow shopping mall Aviapark on Tuesday, a shopper who only gave his name as Leonid said he was “very hurt” H&M is closing down: “A good store is leaving.”
In light of diminishing troops — a U.S. official estimated Russia has sustained 80,000 casualties in the war — and a reluctance to institute a draft, Kremlin officials are offering “lucrative cash bonuses” to potential recruits who deploy to Ukraine, the British Defense Ministry said.
Eligible candidates can be as old as age 50 and need only have a middle school education, the ministry said in its Wednesday update.
Besides enduring combat losses, Russian forces are getting spread thin as they try to claim the remaining part of the eastern Donbas region not under their control while defending their early gains in the south from an Ukrainian counterattack.
The ministry assessed that Russia will find it difficult to assemble a typical army corps of 15,000-20,000 troops because of “very limited levels of popular enthusiasm for volunteering for combat in Ukraine.”
The Ukrainian air force said Wednesday that nine Russian warplanes were destroyed Tuesday in multiple massive explosions at an air base in Russian-held Crimea. The blasts killed one person and wounded 14.
Russia has denied that any aircraft were damaged and said several munitions at the base caught fire and blew up. But the explosions have sparked speculation that they resulted from a Ukrainian attack, though Ukrainian officials have stopped short of publicly claiming responsibility.
The blasts also knocked out windows, damaged nearby apartment buildings and sent tourists fleeing.
A spreading resistance of Ukrainian guerrilla forces has blown up bridges and trains and killed pro-Moscow officials in Russian-occupied areas of southeastern Ukraine.
The Zhovta Strichka, or “Yellow Ribbon,” resistance group has been assisting the Ukrainian military and eroding Russian control in the area.
The guerrilla groups coordinate with the Ukrainian military’s Special Operations Forces and help with selecting targets, preparing ambushes and establishing a network of weapons caches and hideouts in Russian-occupied areas.
“Our goal is to make life unbearable for the Russian occupiers and use any means to derail their plans,” Andriy, a 32-year-old coordinator of the guerrilla movement in the southern Kherson region, told The Associated Press. He spoke on the condition of not being fully identified.
Contributing: The Associated Press