The United States and its allies sharply criticized Russia at an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council for its overnight bombing and seizure of the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant in southeastern ‘Ukraine.
US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the world “narrowly avoided a nuclear catastrophe” when Russian forces fired on the plant, starting a fire that burned overnight.
“Russia’s attack last night endangered Europe’s largest nuclear power plant. It was incredibly reckless and dangerous. And it threatened the safety of civilians across Russia, Ukraine and Europe” , Thomas-Greenfield told the board on March 4.
British Ambassador to the UN Barbara Woodward said: “This must not happen again. Even in the midst of an illegal invasion of Ukraine, Russia must continue to fight and protect the safety and security of nuclear sites.
Russia’s UN envoy Vasily Nebenzya dismissed their statements and called the Security Council meeting another attempt by Ukrainian authorities to create “artificial hysteria”. “At present, the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant and the adjacent territory are guarded by Russian troops,” he said.
Ukraine has previously called the seizure of the plant “nuclear terrorism” and warned that the danger at the plant was not over.
WATCH: Personnel at Ukraine’s nuclear sites, Zaporizhzhya and Chernobyl, are being held by Russian forces and working under gun barrel, according to the former head of Ukraine’s nuclear inspectorate.
On March 4, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy described the attack on the factory as “a terrorist act of an incredible level”.
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The attack, which the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) says caused the fire, occurred as Russian forces continued their military campaign across Ukraine. Kiev was shelled again overnight and Russian troops were reportedly in the center of Kherson on the Black Sea coast.
Heavy fighting continued on the outskirts of another strategic port, Mariupol, cutting off electricity, heat and water as well as most telephone services.
Zelenskiy and other Ukrainian officials crushed Russia for the attack on the Zaporizhzhya power plant.
“This station alone could be like six Chernobyls [tragedies]“, warned Zelenskiy, saying that Russian tanks “knew what they were bombing” and accusing them of erasing the Chernobyl nuclear disaster from their memory in 1986.
Zelenskiy said the night was very dangerous for all of humanity after a fire got out of control in Zaporizhzhya. The fire started after a projectile hit a nuclear training center inside the plant’s perimeter, according to Ukrainian government officials.
Firefighters extinguished the blaze in the morning and nuclear officials around the world said no leaks had been detected.
The US Embassy in Ukraine called the Russian assault on the plant a “war crime”, and Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said it showed how badly the Russian invasion had been reckless.
“It just raises the level of potential disaster to a level that no one wants to see,” he told CNN.
Russian units caused alarm last week when they captured the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear power plant days after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
Yuriy Kostenko, Ukraine’s former nuclear security minister, said what Russian forces were doing in Chernobyl and Zaporizhzhya was “nuclear terrorism”, and that international law requires all countries to oppose it. he added in an apparent reference to a protocol to the Geneva Convention that limits military attacks on nuclear facilities.
“That is why Ukraine should not ask for a no-fly zone from NATO, but demand it. It would be a defense of Ukraine and Europe as a whole against international nuclear terrorism” , did he declare.
The UN Security Council has scheduled an emergency meeting on March 4, diplomats say.
Russian President Vladimir Putin told German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in a phone call that Russia was ready for dialogue if all of its demands were met, the Kremlin said. These include demilitarizing Ukraine, accepting Moscow’s sovereignty over Crimea and ceding territory to Russian-backed separatists in the east, the Kremlin said in its reading of the appeal.
WATCH: A residential building in Irpin, northwest of Kiev, was pounded by shelling as Russian forces continued to attack neighborhoods around the Ukrainian capital. Amateur video posted to social media on March 4 showed shells crashing into the skyscraper.
Russian and Ukrainian negotiators met on March 3 for a second round of talks, reaching an agreement in principle on the establishment of safe corridors to allow civilians to leave besieged Ukrainian cities and the delivery of humanitarian supplies. They also agreed to continue discussing ways to negotiate a settlement.
On March 4, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba accused Russian soldiers of targeting civilians with bombs and committing rapes in Ukrainian towns, without providing evidence to support this. charge.
RFE/RL and international agencies have been unable to independently verify Kuleba’s rape accusation.
“When bombs fall on your cities, when soldiers rape women in occupied cities – and unfortunately we have many cases of Russian soldiers raping women in Ukrainian cities – it is difficult, of course, to talk about the ‘effectiveness of laws,’ Kuleba said, speaking in English, at an event at Chatham House in London.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said after a meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels that the alliance had witnessed the use of cluster bombs in Ukraine.
In Kherson, where Russian troops had reached the city center and reportedly sought to establish local control on March 3, the regional administration said Russian actions had cut several telephone networks.
The port city of Mariupol remained “under siege” with Ukrainian forces struggling to prevent Russian forces from encircling the city, Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovich said.
The towns of Kharkiv and Okhtyrka were under fire but the defenses were holding, he said.
Arestovich credited the defense of these cities with “buying time” and diverting Russian forces from other objectives, including Kiev.
The region’s chief, Dmytro Zhyvytskiy, warned that water and electricity had been lost since an airstrike destroyed the Okhtyrka power station. He also said Russian troops were capturing ground at Enerhodar, near the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant in southeastern Ukraine.
The regional branch of Ukraine’s state administration on March 4 raised the death toll to at least 47 following a Russian airstrike in the city of Chernihiv, a city of around 300,000 near the northern border. -is with Russia.
Images circulated of heavily damaged residential buildings and a burning oil depot in Chernihiv.
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Meanwhile, protests against the Russian occupation continued early on March 4 in the Zaporizhzhya region, a correspondent for Ukraine’s RFE/RL service said, including in Primorsk and Melitopol, where a local organizer said thousands people showed up in a central square.
Regional authorities said the Russian military surrounded a local TV tower in Melitopol and started broadcasting Russian programs.
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin gave a speech in which he said he had no “bad intentions” towards Russia’s neighbours.
“I would like to emphasize once again: we do not have, as we said earlier, bad intentions towards our neighbors,” Putin said. “I would also advise them not to escalate tensions, not to introduce restrictions. We are honoring all our commitments and we will continue to honor them.”
Putin declared his full-scale, unprovoked invasion of Ukraine on February 24, saying Moscow’s goal was the ‘demilitarization’ of Ukraine and accusing Kiev of extremism with labels he has regularly used in the eight years since it occupied Ukrainian Crimea and began supporting the armed forces. separatists in eastern Ukraine.
As international financial and other sanctions mount and the UN’s top human rights body votes 32 to 2 on a resolution to form a group to monitor human rights in Ukraine , Putin blamed the isolation of Russia on other countries.
“If a few [countries] do not want to cooperate with us internationally, they will inflict damage on themselves and on us, but we will solve all the problems ourselves,” Putin said.
He called on other countries to “normalize their relations” with Russia, whose invasion was massively condemned this week by members of the UN.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov urged Russians, thousands of whom have been arrested for anti-war protests as media and other measures are tightened against dissent, to ‘rally around’ Putin .
Thousands of people are believed to have been killed and more than a million Ukrainians have fled west amid a growing refugee crisis since Putin launched his invasion.
Ukraine’s Children’s Rights Commissioner, Darya Herasymchuk, said on March 4 that at least 28 children had been killed and 64 injured so far in the conflict.
She says around 1.5 million children reside in the worst affected areas and cited “destroyed maternities, kindergartens and schools”.