Kiev — Ukraine has again accused Russian forces of shelling the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power station, the largest in Europe, and of blocking an inspection mission by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), amid soaring fears of a deadly accident.
"Russia has resorted to dangerous provocations and staged the shelling of the nuclear power station itself. The Russians are well known for their elaborate plans of deceit, sabotage, and cover-ups," the Ukrainian ambassador to the United Nations, Sergiy Kyslytsya, told a Security Council meeting in New York.
The security situation around the power plant, which has been occupied by Russian troops since March, has deteriorated in recent days, with fresh shelling reported at the site on Thursday.
Ukrainian and Western politicians have accused Moscow of exploiting the plant as a base for artillery and troops, knowing that Kiev would hesitate to fire back.
The destructive Russian attitude, unjustified conditions and the shelling have prevented a visit by IAEA experts, Kyslytsya said, warning of the consequences of an accident. "None of us can stop the wind if radioactivity spreads, but we can stop the terrorist state together," he said, referring to Russia.
Kyslytsya called on the occupying Russian forces to de-mine the site and withdraw all troops, weapons and equipment. Kiev was prepared to guarantee safe passage to an IAEA mission through the territory controlled by Ukrainian forces, he added, but it would have to be accompanied by military experts on account of the situation.
Ukraine's calls were widely echoed, amid fears that any damage to the plant in southern Ukraine could cause harm greater than in previous major nuclear accidents.
"The Zaporizhzhia facility must not be used as part of any military operation," EU Foreign Affairs chief Josep Borrel said in a tweet, calling for the IAEA to visit and for the area to be demilitarized. "Russia must immediately hand back full control to rightful sovereign owner Ukraine," he said.
The German government also expressed worries about the ongoing fighting in the area, with spokesperson Steffen Hebestreit said the government had repeatedly made it clear "that we call on all sides to stop this highly dangerous shelling."
At an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council on Thursday, IAEA chief Rafael Grossi called on Moscow and Kiev to immediately allow a visit by international experts.
There is "no immediate threat" to safety at Ukraine's Zaporizhzhya nuclear plant despite continued shelling, Grossi said on Thursday but he told the UN Security Council in New York the situation could however change "at any moment" and called on Moscow and Kiev to grant international experts access to the plant as quickly as possible.
Moscow has said it is ready to do so. Russia's UN Ambassador Vasily Nebensya said such a mission should take place "as soon as possible - perhaps even by the end of August."
However, on Friday, leading Russian politicians rejected the G7's demand that Moscow hand control of the Zaporizhzhya plant back to Ukraine.
"No and no again," Konstantin Kosachev, deputy speaker of Russia's upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, answered in response to a question, according to the Interfax agency.
To ensure the safety of the nuclear power plant, he said, complete control over the facility is necessary.
Kosachev received support from the head of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the State Duma, Leonid Slutsky, who accused Ukraine of "nuclear terrorism."
"And all the statements of support by the G7 foreign ministers are nothing but sponsorship of nuclear terrorism," he wrote on his Telegram channel.
However there appeared to be disagreement over the issue, as a senior Russian politician indicated Moscow could agree to a withdrawal of its forces at the embattled power plant, although he ruled out handing control back to Ukraine.
Vladimir Dzhabarov, deputy head of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the Russian parliament, said the "demilitarization" of the plant would be "reasonable," the Interfax news agency reported.
"Russia must retain control of the plant," said Dzhabarov, a member of the Kremlin's United Russia party.
While Russia controls the southern part of the region called Zaporizhzhya, Kiev still controls the city of the same name.
However, on Friday, five Russian missiles hit the city of Zaporizhzhya, regional governor Olexander Staruch said on Telegram.
A fire broke out and infrastructure buildings were destroyed, he said. At least one woman was injured and more information on casualties is expected.
The town of Kramatorsk in the Donbass was also shelled on Friday evening, the authorities said. At least two civilians were killed and 13 were injured.
Meanwhile in Mykolaiv, Ukrainian air defences intercepted a Russian missile, according to reports.
Meanwhile as fighting continues in Ukraine, Russia is seeking to consolidate its hold on the areas where it has seized control.
Moscow has begun concrete planning to hold referenda in several cities in occupied parts of eastern Ukraine in a bid to draw them closer to Russia, according to senior Washington officials.
A senior National Security Council official said Russia is planning to hold such referenda in Kherson, Zaporizhzhya, the separatist regions of Luhansk and Donetsk, and parts of Kharkiv.
"As Russia prepares for the referenda, we have information that officials are vetting candidates to serve as administrators of these territories. And that this these moves could take place as soon as in the coming weeks," he said.
Washington assumes Russia would manipulate the results of these referenda in order to falsely claim that the Ukrainian people want to join Russia, the official said.
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