Ukrainian FFs reportedly shot at while attempting to fight fire at nuclear power plant
Ukraine's foreign minister called on Russians to allow firefighters to extinguish the fire, warning "If it blows up, it will be 10 times larger than Chornobyl!”
New York Daily News
KYIV, Ukraine — Russia’s brutal bombardment of Ukraine turned early Friday to Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, setting part of it on fire and leading a top government official to issue a harrowing warning of a massive catastrophe.
“If it blows up, it will be 10 times larger than Chornobyl!” Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Twitter. “Russians must IMMEDIATELY cease the fire, allow firefighters, establish a security zone!”
One of the six reactors at the Zaporizhzhya nuclear plant — in southern Ukraine, 500 miles from the Chernobyl site in the northern part of the country — was in flames. Firefighters who attempted to fight the blaze were shot at, said a video on the plant’s Facebook page.
The scope of the damage was unclear. A spokesman for the plant told the Daily News that the radiation level at the plant was normal. But a government official told the AP that elevated radiation levels had been detected near the plant.
The reactor on fire is under renovation and not operating — but it still contains nuclear fuel, the AP said.
Though the Russian advance on key areas of northern Ukraine continued to lag on Thursday as Ukrainians putting up a rigid defense of the two largest cities, Kyiv and Kharkiv, Russian President Vladimir Putin kept battering his neighbor with bombs and pushed more than 100,000 troops over the border.
The Pentagon estimated that about 90% of the troops that Russia massed around Ukraine last month have now entered the country. Ukraine has benefited from a strong showing by its air defenses, but has still watched its urban civilian areas endure crushing attacks in recent days.
The center of Kharkiv, a city of more than 1 million people, has been decimated by air assaults, and Russian troops have reached the edge of the city, according to the U.S. Defense Department. A stalled miles-long convoy still menaces Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, home to almost 3 million.
In the south, Russia has squeezed the coastal city of Mariupol, surrounding it with troops and riddling it with missiles. And the Russian military seems to have seized its first large Ukrainian city, Kherson, also located off the coast of the Black Sea.
The U.S. government would not confirm on Thursday that Kherson had fallen. But the Pentagon suggested that the situation in the south was worsening, and that attacks were intensifying in several areas of Ukraine.
Putin claimed the invasion was going according to plan, despite widespread belief in the West that the assault has fallen behind schedule.
The U.S., which has delivered air defense equipment to Ukraine, said Thursday that it would also designate the country for temporary protected status for 18 months, the Department of Homeland Security said Thursday.
The designation provides sanctuary to migrants who are living in the U.S. and cannot return to their home country due to unsafe conditions. The Ukrainian government has already pegged the count of civilians dead in the conflict above 2,000.
In a statement, Alejandro Mayorkas, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said America will offer “support and protection” to Ukrainian citizens in the U.S.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, cheered the move.
“Ukrainians around the world are experiencing the fear and uncertainty caused by President Putin’s premeditated and unprovoked invasion of their country,” Schumer said in a statement, praising President Joe Biden for “taking decisive action so that Ukrainians can stay safely in America.”
More than 1 million refugees have flooded out of Ukraine, according to the U.N. The White House has asked Congress to approve $10 billion in aid for Ukraine, a nation of 42 million people.
The Biden administration also said Thursday that it was imposing travel restrictions on 19 Russian oligarchs and 47 of their family members and associates, and growing the list of Kremlin-allied elites facing American sanctions.
Biden said sanctions against Russia have “had a profound impact already.”
“Our interest is in maintaining the strongest unified economic impact campaign on Putin in all of history,” Biden said before a cabinet meeting. “And I think we’re well on the way to doing that.”
Britain also ordered new sanctions on two top oligarchs on America’s list of Russian elites, Igor Shuvalov and Alisher Usmanov, hitting them with asset freezes and travel bans. The two men are said to have a combined net worth of some $19 billion.
“For as long as Putin continues his barbaric attack on innocent Ukrainians, we will continue to exert every power we have to inflict maximum economic pain on Putin and his war machine,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a tweet.
The West has lined up in support of the beleaguered Ukrainians, and slapped escalating sanctions on Russia’s economy. But global condemnation and currency depreciation have done little to deter Putin’s bloody drive to topple Kyiv.
On Thursday, President Emmanuel Macron of France delivered a pessimistic assessment after a 90-minute phone call with the Russian president.
“He refuses to stop his attacks on Ukraine at this point,” Macron tweeted. “It is vital to maintain dialogue to avoid human tragedy. I will continue my efforts and contacts. We must avoid the worst.”
Macron took a leading role in Europe’s fruitless efforts to head off the war last month. He sat across a lengthy table from the coronavirus-fearing Putin in Moscow shortly before the invasion.
The in-person diplomatic rendezvous could not head off the conflict, but it generated chatter in France about Putin’s increasingly odd behavior.
With Russia staging the largest invasion in Europe since World War II, Biden has declared that there has been a “complete rupture” in the relationship between the U.S. and Russia.
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said Thursday that there were no plans for any meetings or phone calls between Biden and Putin.
“Right now, they’re invading a sovereign country and continuing to escalate every day,” Psaki said of Russia. Asked about a sit-down between the presidential foes, she said: “Now is not the moment.”
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