As an expert team from the UN’s nuclear watchdog prepared to visit, Russian occupation forces accused Ukrainian troops of shelling at the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant that resulted in new damage to the site.
“The national units of the Ukrainian Armed Forces fired artillery close to the reactor units of the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant,” the Russian military administration in the city of Enerhodar in southern Ukraine said on Monday, dpa news agency reported, citing the Interfax news agency.
The roof of the uranium storage hall is said to have been damaged.
Photos were also published on Telegram by Vladimir Rogov, the Moscow-appointed military governor of the Zaporizhzhya region.
He claimed the shots were fired from a US-supplied M777 howitzer.
For weeks, Kiev and Moscow have blamed each other for escalating attacks around the nuclear facility.
An expert team from the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is on the way to the embattled plant as safety and security concerns persist at Europe’s biggest nuclear facility.
“The day has come,” tweeted IAEA head Rafael Grossi after months of negotiations among the warring sides.
Grossi announced the experts would arrive at the sprawling site, which has been occupied by Russian forces since March, “later this week.”
World powers, along with Ukraine and Russia, have issued dire warnings about the potential for nuclear calamity at Zaporizhzhya, where attacks have ramped up.
The IAEA’s experts will assess the possibility of physical damage on the plant’s six reactors, determine the functionality of safety and security systems and undertake urgent safeguards, Grossi said.
The IAEA also wants to get a clearer picture of the working conditions of the Ukrainian employees at Zaporizhzhya, who have been carrying out their duties under the control of Russian occupiers.
The experts will also want to make sure that all nuclear material is accounted for.
A visit to inspect the critical control systems had until now failed to materialize because of the question of whether the team would travel via Russian-controlled territory or from Ukrainian territory, as well as the need to secure safety guarantees.
Experts inside and outside the IAEA are particularly concerned about the supply of power used to keep the nuclear fuel cool.
So far, the IAEA, Russia and Ukraine have all said they detect no increase in radiation levels at the plant. The site has sustained damage amid the fighting, including to a high-voltage line that temporarily forced an emergency shutdown of two reactors.
Grossi has so far given few details about the mission, beyond posting a picture of himself and 13 other IAEA experts.
A few hours earlier, Russian troops alleged to have shot down an armed Ukrainian drone directly over one of the six reactors.
According to Kiev, Russian troops use the plant as a shield from which to fire on locations on the opposite bank of the Dnipro reservoir, because it knows Ukrainian forces will be hesitant to fire toward the sensitive site.
The Kremlin and its local representative claim that Ukrainian “terrorists” are the ones firing the shots. Russia says that Ukraine is bombarding the plant with the help of drones, heavy artillery and rocket launchers. In most cases, Russian air defence intercepts the projectiles, Moscow has claimed in recent weeks.
After Grossi’s announcement, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov pledged Moscow’s cooperation with the IAEA but warned any discussion about creating a demilitarized zone around the plant – an idea that has been floated – was off the table.
The US and G7 welcomed the IAEA visit.
On the ground, Ukrainian troops claimed to have broken through Russian front lines in the southern region of Kherson.
Donetsk separatist units and supporting Russian marines were reportedly forced to retreat.
However, the Russian Defence Ministry said Moscow’s forces repelled the Ukrainian offensive in the occupied areas of Kherson and Mykolaiv in southern Ukraine.
The Ukrainian army suffered heavy losses, the Russian statement said.
It was not possible to verify the claims of either side independently.
A Ukrainian lawmaker who crossed over to work for the Russian authorities has been murdered in the same region, according to Russian investigators.
Preliminary findings show that Olexiy Kovalev, 33, was shot dead in his home, the Russian criminal investigation authorities announced on Telegram.
His girlfriend also died in the attack, they said. She was stabbed and died in hospital, Ukrainian sources said.
Russia took control of almost all of southern Ukraine’s Kherson region after invading Ukraine on February 24.
There have been several attacks on Ukrainians for serving for the occupying forces during recent weeks.
Ukraine also said it wants to become a member of NATO directly, rather than under the earlier accession plan that was formed before Russian troops invaded the country in February.
When Russia invaded, it demanded that Ukraine have neutral status, and so abandon its 2019 constitutional goal of becoming a NATO member.