United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said on Monday that the risk of a nuclear confrontation had returned after decades, calling on nuclear states to commit not to be the first to use weapons.
Any attack on a nuclear plant is a “suicidal thing”, Guterres said, in response to reports of new Russian bombardments of Ukraine’s Zaporizhia facility, Europe’s largest nuclear power plant.
Russia accused Ukrainian forces on Monday of bombing the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe and which is under Russian control in Ukraine, from where another cargo ship with grain sailed thanks to the agreement sealed to alleviate the global food crisis.
Guterres made the remarks at a news conference in Tokyo after attending a ceremony at Hiroshima Peace Park on Saturday to mark the 77th anniversary of the world’s first atomic bombing.
Since Friday, Ukraine and Russia have accused each other of the attacks on the Zaporizhia plant, located in southern Ukraine and taken over by the Russians since March. No independent source has been able to confirm the veracity of the accusations so far.
The bombing of the plant “by the Ukrainian armed forces” is “potentially extremely dangerous” and could “have catastrophic consequences for a vast area, including the European territory,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov warned.
The Russian Defense Ministry said on Monday that the latest attack early Sunday had damaged a high-voltage line that supplies electricity to two Ukrainian regions.
The head of the Ukrainian nuclear agency Energoatom, Petro Kotin, called on Monday to evict the Russian occupiers and create a “demilitarized zone” around the plant.
“There should be a peacekeeping mission that also includes experts from the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] and other security organizations,” he continued in a video posted on Telegram.
According to him, “about 500 soldiers and 50 heavy vehicles, tanks and trucks” occupy the Zaporizhia plant. In addition, two Ukrainian employees were injured during the attacks, it said.
“There is no nation in the world that can feel safe when a terrorist state bombs a nuclear power plant,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky reacted in his daily address on Sunday.
The IAEA said on Saturday that the attacks represented “the latest in a long series of increasingly alarming reports.” Following the attack on Friday, one of the reactors had to be shut down.
When the Russian military seized the plant days after invading Ukraine on February 24, they opened fire on one of the buildings, raising the risk of a nuclear accident.
“Any attack on a nuclear plant is a suicidal thing,” United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned in Tokyo on Monday.
“I hope that those attacks end and, at the same time, I hope that the IAEA will be able to access the plant,” he added.
New freighter from Pivdenny
Within the framework of the agreements sealed on July 22 between kyiv and Moscow to resume Ukrainian grain exports through the Black Sea, another cargo ship set sail this Monday from Pivdenny, one of the three ports designated in the pacts along with Chornomorsk and Odessa.
The ship left with 60,000 tons of grain. In total, eight freighters have already set sail from Ukraine loaded with grain.
“In the next two weeks, we hope to reach a rate of between three and five ships a day,” the Ukrainian Ministry of Infrastructure said.
Some 20 million tons of grain were blocked in the ports of the Odessa region by the presence of Russian warships and mines laid by kyiv to defend its coast.
The suspension of exports triggered a rise in food prices in the poorest countries and raised fears of a global food crisis.
Shelling of bridge at Jerson
Despite this diplomatic advance, the fighting does not stop on the ground. kyiv announced that Ukrainian forces again attacked a major bridge in Kherson, occupied by Russian troops, early Monday morning.
The Antonovski Bridge, situated over the Dnieper River on the outskirts of Jershon, is key to the supply of the city as it is the only one connecting the southern bank of the Dnieper with the rest of the occupied Jershon region.
Kherson, the capital of the homonymous region, is located just a few kilometers from the front, where the Ukrainian forces have been announcing for several weeks a counteroffensive aimed at recovering the territories lost in the first days of the invasion.
The region is strategic as it borders the Crimean peninsula, annexed by Moscow in 2014. By occupying Jerson, Russia was able to connect both territories.
Moscow also occupies Melitopol, some 200 km to the east, where US HIMARS missiles hit Russian forces early Monday, according to the city’s mayor, Ivan Fedorov.
On Sunday, Ukrainian President Volodimir Zelensky acknowledged that the situation was still “very difficult in Donbas (east), in the Kharkov region and in the south, where the occupying forces are trying to concentrate their forces.”
With information from Reuters and AFP.