Ukraine nuclear plant worker killed by mortar fire as tensions rise

Ukraine nuclear plant worker killed by mortar fire as tensions rise

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KYIV, Ukraine — An employee at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant and his driver were killed in a mortar explosion outside the facility, underscoring the perilous situation at Europe’s largest nuclear plant, the president of Ukraine’s nuclear power company said Tuesday.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned of a potential catastrophe at the plant and called for international pressure on Russia to withdraw its forces from the area.

“We do not control what is happening there,” Zelensky said at a news conference in Kyiv, adding: “We need to put pressure on Russia, give them an ultimatum from the international community that they should leave, take out equipment, bombs, weapons and people who definitely do not understand what is happening there and have no relation to atomic energy.”

The worker’s death comes as Russia is “stepping up efforts to launch more strikes against Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure and government facilities in the coming days,” including Ukrainian Independence Day on Wednesday, according to a State Department spokesperson who spoke on the condition of anonymity under rules set by the department.

Fears of increased attacks also rose as hundreds of Russians attended a memorial ceremony in Moscow on Tuesday for Daria Dugina, daughter of far-right ideologue Alexander Dugin and a staunch supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his war in Ukraine.

Dugin called for “more than just revenge” for his daughter’s killing, which Russia’s FSB security service blamed on Ukraine. Kyiv officials have denied responsibility for the attack, attributing it to internal Russian affairs. But Dugin said his daughter’s “ultimate sacrifice, the highest price we pay, can only be justified by victory” in Ukraine.

Oleksiy Danilov, head of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, also said Tuesday that Ukraine expects the FSB to launch “terrorist attacks” in Russian cities and blame them on Ukraine. He said, without providing evidence, that Dugina’s killing was the first of what would be a series of attacks organized by the FSB to drum up domestic support for the war.

The death of the Zaporizhzhia worker on Monday was the second such killing since Russian forces occupied the area in March. The mortar fire that killed Vladyslav Mitin, a mechanic at the facility, did not appear to have been a direct attack on the nuclear plant itself.

Energoatom President Petro Kotin told The Washington Post in an interview at the company’s headquarters in Kyiv that Russian troops hit Mitin’s taxi as it drove through Enerhodar, the Russian-occupied city where the plant is located.

The Russian government did not respond to a request for comment.

A video posted by the mayor of Enerhodar purports to show the vehicle Mitin was riding in on the side of road, riddled with holes and blown out windows.

World powers met at the UN Security Council in New York on Tuesday to address the situation at the plant.

Russia’s UN ambassador said that “technical details” allowing a visit to the plant by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are under discussion and that “now I think it’s on the way, I hope as early as late August, early September.”

But Russian Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya, speaking at the Russian-called meeting, again rejected UN calls, backed by the United States and others, for the demilitarization of the facility occupied by Russian forces.

He repeated Moscow’s insistence that escalating artillery attacks on the plant are being launched by Ukrainian forces, which Ukraine denies.

In a separate statement, IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi said in Vienna that “renewed shelling in recent days” have added to the risk of a “severe nuclear accident in Europe.” He said an agency visit to secure the safety and security of the plant “is expected to take place within the next few days if ongoing negotiations succeed.”

The UN meeting was the second in less than two weeks in which Russia and Ukraine traded accusations on responsibility for the shelling of the facility, which has been under Russian occupation for months.

Both sides have generally agreed to an IAEA visit, but among the remaining questions is whether it should be approached from Ukrainian-controlled territory to the north or Russian-controlled territory to the south. Russia refuses to cede control of the facility, while Ukraine does not want to recognize its control.

“I wish we had been gathered here by Russia to hear the only thing that the entire world wants to hear, and that is a statement that Russia demilitarizes ZNPP, withdraws its troops and hands it over to the government of Ukraine,” Ukrainian Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya told the council.

Instead, he said, Russia has “once again has the audacity to convene a United Nations Security Council meeting to discuss its own provocation, its own terror at the ZNPP.”

Nebenzya said Russia has no heavy artillery at the facility and has not fired from there, which he said could be confirmed by satellite date.

“Today, once again, we heard the old record saying Russia is the guilty party, guilty for everything.” Anything Ukraine does is “whitewashed” by the West, he said, calling on the United States and others to “stop covering up what your Kyiv proteges are doing and compel them to stop attacking.”

Richard Mills, the deputy US ambassador, said that “the entire international community are living under the threat of a nuclear catastrophe.”

Russia is using the nuclear plant “as a staging ground for war,” he said, but he did not directly address the question of which side is shelling the area. “Russia created this risk — and only Russia can defuse it … Russia must end its unprovoked, unjustified war and withdraw its troops,” Mills said.

Though the plant is under Russian control, it is run by about 1,000 Ukrainian workers, which is less than 10 percent of its usual workforce.

Kotin said Russian forces have tortured and beaten plant workers and detained up to 200 suspected of opposing Moscow’s occupation of the facility. But he said the plant’s workers are unlikely to divulge information that is critical of Russia to the IAEA for fear of the reprisals.

“It is a very big danger for them,” Kotin said. “They would just say, ‘I won’t say anything.’ ”

On Wednesday, there will be a second UN Security Council meeting pertaining to Ukraine in which UN Secretary General António Guterres will brief members on his recent trip to Ukraine, a UN official said.

Guterres said Monday that the world is at a “maximum moment of danger” and called for countries to work together to put an end to “nuclear saber-rattling” and “save succeeding generations from the scurge of war.”

In a speech on Tuesday, Zelensky insisted that Ukraine would ultimately reclaim the Russian-controlled Crimean Peninsula and that Europe would be safer as a result.

“Ukraine’s restoration of control over the Crimean Peninsula will be a historic antiwar step in Europe,” Zelensky said.

In recent weeks, Russian military sites in Crimea have been damaged in attacks widely believed to have been carried out by Ukraine’s special forces and local clandestine allies.

“For Ukraine, Crimea is not just some territory, not a chip in the geopolitical game,” Zelensky said. “For Ukraine, Crimea is a part of our people, our society … Crimea was and is Ukraine, and after de-occupation, along with our entire state, it will become part of the European Union.”

DeYoung reported from Washington. Rick Noack in Paris contributed to this report.

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