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Russian troops fire at Ukrainian civilians protecting Europe’s largest nuclear plant

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine, the largest of its kind in Europe, was on fire in the early hours of Friday morning after coming under attack by Russian troops.

A live feed from the station showed flames at the site in the south-east of the country, and showed tanks firing at buildings – sparking fears of a radiation disaster in the nation currently under invasion by Russian forces.  

As the chaotic scenes unfolded, a government official told The Associated Press elevated levels of radiation had being detected near the site of the plant. A plant spokesman later said they remained at normal levels. 

The Ukrainian atomic energy ministry said that one of the six generating units at the plant in Enerhodar had been struck by Russian fire. Zaporizhzhia has six nuclear reactors and accounts for almost a quarter of Ukraine’s power. 

Officials initially reported Russian troops were blocking emergency services from reaching the blaze in a unit housing radioactive material, but local media later said firefighters had reached the fire and were working to extinguish it.

Plant spokesman Andriy Tuz told Ukrainian television that it is urgent to stop the fighting to put out the flames. The reactor that is on fire is under renovation and not operating, but there is nuclear fuel inside, he said.

‘We demand that they stop the heavy weapons fire,’ Andriy Tuz said in a video posted on Telegram. ‘There is a real threat of nuclear danger in the biggest atomic energy station in Europe.

‘Firefighters can’t start extinguishing the fire at the Zaporozhzhia nuclear power plant – they are being fired on at point-blank range. There is already a hit on the first power unit,’ Tuz said. 

Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, said there was ‘firing from all sides’ at the plant. ‘Russian army is firing from all sides upon Zaporizhzhia NPP, the largest nuclear power plant in Europe,’ he wrote on Twitter.

‘Fire has already broke out. If it blows up, it will be 10 times larger than Chornobyl! Russians must IMMEDIATELY cease the fire, allow firefighters, establish a security zone!’ Kuleba was referring to the 1986 disaster in the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the north of the country, when the Ukraine was in the Soviet Union. 

It is considered the worst nuclear disaster in history.  

The live feed at one point appeared to show the flashing lights of emergency vehicles arriving to the scene, but their path was blocked by tanks stationed along the road leading up to the reactors. 

There has been fierce fighting between local forces and Russian troops, the mayor – Dmytro Orlov – said in an online post reporting the fire, adding that there had been casualties without giving details.   

‘As a result of continuous enemy shelling of buildings and units of the largest nuclear power plant in Europe, the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant is on fire,’ Orlov said, citing what he called a threat to world security.   

Pictured: A still grab from a live feed at the nuclear power plant in eastern Ukraine. A fire has been seen at a nuclear power plant in Kyiv after tanks opened fire with heavy weapons at the facility, footage in the early hours of Friday morning showed

A government official told The Associated Press elevated levels of radiation are being detected near the site of the plant. The official spoke on condition of anonymity as the information has not yet been publicly released

A government official told The Associated Press elevated levels of radiation are being detected near the site of the plant. The official spoke on condition of anonymity as the information has not yet been publicly released

A live feed from the Zaporizhzhia station showed flames at the site in the east of Ukraine, having earlier showed tanks firing at buildings - sparking fears of a radiation disaster in the country currently being invaded by Russian forces

A live feed from the Zaporizhzhia station showed flames at the site in the east of Ukraine, having earlier showed tanks firing at buildings – sparking fears of a radiation disaster in the country currently being invaded by Russian forces

Pictured: The plant seen from another angle, with smoke rising in the distance

Pictured: The plant seen from another angle, with smoke rising in the distance

Zaporizhzhia has six nuclear reactors, making it the largest of its kind in Europe, and accounts for about one quarter of Ukraine's power generation. One report said the fire was about 150 meters away from one of the reactors

Zaporizhzhia has six nuclear reactors, making it the largest of its kind in Europe, and accounts for about one quarter of Ukraine’s power generation. One report said the fire was about 150 meters away from one of the reactors

Missiles lighting up the sky have also been fired this evening as Russian troops advance through Ukraine

Missiles lighting up the sky have also been fired this evening as Russian troops advance through Ukraine

LIVE: Broadcast of Zaporizka

The mayor of Enerhodar said earlier that Ukrainian forces were battling Russian troops on the city’s outskirts. Video showed flames and black smoke rising above the city of more than 50,000, with people streaming past wrecked cars, just a day after the U.N. atomic watchdog agency expressed grave concern that the fighting could cause accidental damage to Ukraine’s 15 nuclear reactors. 

Ukrainian authorities reported Russian troops were stepping up efforts to seize the plant and had entered the town with tanks on Thursday.

Civilians defied Russian troops for a second day running in a bid to protect the nuclear plant. They were shown setting up make-shift road blocks in an attempt to barricade the route to the facility.

Both the Ukrainian state atomic energy company and Orlov warned troops were nearing Zaporizhzhia. Officials said loud shots were heard in the city late Thursday.

‘Many young men in athletic clothes and armed with Kalashnikov have come into the city. They are breaking down door and trying to get into the apartments of local residents,’ the statement from Energoatom said. 

Today, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal joined Ukraine’s president in calling on the West to close the skies over Ukraine’s nuclear plants as fighting intensified around the major energy hub on the left bank of the Dnieper River and the Khakhovka Reservoir.

Shmyhal said he already had appealed to NATO and the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations’ atomic watchdog.

‘Close the skies over Ukraine! It is a question of the security of the whole world!’ Shmyhal said in a statement Thursday evening.

The U.S. and NATO allies have ruled out creating a no-fly zone since the move would directly pit Russian and Western militaries. 

Earlier, Huge plumes of black smoke and fire were seen coming from a makeshift barricade on the main route to the Zaporizhzhia site, as an air raid siren wailed in the background.

Footage, taken earlier today, showed armed men holding guns and wearing bulletproof vests as rounds of ammunition appeared to be fired by Russian troops.

Two brave civilians can be seen throwing molotov cocktails in the direction of Russian forces, in a video posted to Facebook by mayor Orlov. 

Missiles lighting up the sky have also been fired this evening as Russian troops advance through Ukraine.

Zaporizhzhia is the largest of Ukraine’s nuclear sites, with six out of the country’s 15 reactors. Russia has already seized control of the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear plant, scene of the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 1986. 

Research by specialists for Greenpeace International found that, in a worst-case scenario where explosions destroy the reactor containment and cooling systems at Zaporizhzhia, it could create a disaster far worse even than Fukushima in Japan in 2011. 

Huge plums of black smoke and fire were seen coming from a makeshift barricade on the main route to the Zaporizhzhia site in eastern Ukraine, as an air raid siren wailed in the background

Huge plums of black smoke and fire were seen coming from a makeshift barricade on the main route to the Zaporizhzhia site in eastern Ukraine, as an air raid siren wailed in the background

The footage, taken earlier today, showed armed men holding guns and wearing bulletproof vests as rounds of ammunition appeared to be fired by Russian troops

The footage, taken earlier today, showed armed men holding guns and wearing bulletproof vests as rounds of ammunition appeared to be fired by Russian troops

Two brave civilians can be seen throwing molotov cocktails in the direction of Russian forces, in a video posted to Facebook by the mayor of Enerhodar, Dmitri Orlov

Two brave civilians can be seen throwing molotov cocktails in the direction of Russian forces, in a video posted to Facebook by the mayor of Enerhodar, Dmitri Orlov

Yesterday Ukrainian civilians built makeshift roadblocks with bright orange lorries and piles of tyres on the main route to the Zaporizhzhia site.

Brandishing Ukrainian flags, the army of volunteers created a human barricade near the city of Enerhodar to stop advancing Russian troops. 

Footage posted on social media showed the blockade, reportedly a kilometre long and comprising scrap cars, garbage trucks and sandbags.  

Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s interior ministry, warned yesterday the Russians could create a ‘new Chernobyl’ if the plant was damaged. ‘Because of Vladimir Putin’s madness, Europe is again on the brink of a nuclear catastrophe,’ he wrote on Facebook. 

‘The city where the largest nuclear power plant in Europe is located is preparing for a battle with the invaders. An accident can happen like at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant or the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Russian generals – think again! Radiation does not know nationalities, does not spare anyone!’

Russia has written to the International Atomic Energy Agency saying its forces have taken control of the area around the plant. 

Hundreds of Ukrainian civilians defied Russian troops yesterday in a bid to protect Europe’s largest nuclear plant Zaporizhzhia

Hundreds of Ukrainian civilians defied Russian troops yesterday in a bid to protect Europe’s largest nuclear plant Zaporizhzhia

Brandishing Ukrainian flags, the army of volunteers created a human barricade near the city of Enerhodar to stop advancing Russian troops

Brandishing Ukrainian flags, the army of volunteers created a human barricade near the city of Enerhodar to stop advancing Russian troops

Footage posted on social media showed the blockade, reportedly a kilometre long and comprising scrap cars, garbage trucks and sandbags

Footage posted on social media showed the blockade, reportedly a kilometre long and comprising scrap cars, garbage trucks and sandbags

Locals of Zaporizhzhia prepare and carry sand bags inside and outside of the hospital so that it is less affected by the Russian attack

Locals of Zaporizhzhia prepare and carry sand bags inside and outside of the hospital so that it is less affected by the Russian attack

A man carries a sandbag to seal the entrance to the Emergency Care Hospital in Zaporizhzhia, the site of the Europe’s largest nuclear plant

A man carries a sandbag to seal the entrance to the Emergency Care Hospital in Zaporizhzhia, the site of the Europe’s largest nuclear plant

The UN nuclear watchdog said Moscow claimed technicians at Zaporizhzhia were continuing their ‘work on providing nuclear safety and monitoring radiation in normal mode of operation’. 

The letter yesterday added: ‘The radiation levels remain normal.’ 

IAEA chief Rafael Grossi warned that any ‘accident involving the nuclear facilities in Ukraine could have severe consequences for public health and the environment’. 

He said it was ‘imperative to ensure that the brave people who operate, regulate, inspect and assess the nuclear facilities in Ukraine can continue to do their indispensable jobs safely, unimpeded and without undue pressure’.    

Jan Vande Putte, co-author of the risk analysis, said: ‘So long as this war continues the military threat to Ukraine’s nuclear plants will remain.  This is one further reason, amongst so many, why Putin needs to immediately cease his war on Ukraine.’ 

The fight to protect Zaporizhzhia is symbolic of the everyday heroism shown by the Ukrainian people. Vitali Klitschko, the mayor of Kyiv, told the BBC he had seen a line ‘hours long’ of civilians queuing up to get weapons. 

‘Right now, people are proud,’ the former world champion boxer said. His brother Wladimir, who was also a top fighter, said: 

‘This is our home. Our parents are buried here, our children go to school here. Why should we flee? What would you do if someone gets in to your house? You defend it.’ 

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