World leaders rushed to condemn Russia’s bombing of a nuclear power plant, as Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky said he feared it could have been “the end of Europe”.
Vladimir Putin’s forces attacked the Zaporizhzhia plant – the largest of its kind in Europe – in the city Enerhodar in the early hours of Friday – the ninth day since he launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Boris Johnson condemned the “despicable attack” and insisted that Ukraine’s allies in the West are “doing everything we can to ensure Putin’s barbaric venture ends in failure.”
Nato general secretary Jens Stoltenberg said: “This just demonstrates the recklessness of this war and the importance of ending it, and the importance of Russia withdrawing all its troops and engaging with faith in diplomatic efforts.”
After the attack, US president Joe Biden spoke to Mr Zelensky. He urged Russia to cease its military activities in the area and allow firefighters and emergency responders to access the site.
Canadian president Justin Trudeau also discussed the attack with his Ukrainian counterpart, and then called for the “unacceptable attacks by Russia [to] cease immediately.”
Ukrainian authorities said they were highly concerned that the bombing could have unleashed a huge catastrophe, that foreign affairs minister Dmytro Kuleba warned could have been “ten times larger than Chernobyl”.
But luckily, none of the six nuclear reactors were affected.
An adjacent five-storey training facility was set alight. Firefighters have extinguished the blaze and there were no reported deaths.
There were two reported injuries – according to the IAEA, the UN’s nuclear watchdog.
Rafael Grossi, the director general of the IAEA, said the building next to the reactors was hit, rather than any of the reactors, and that “there has been no release of radioactive material”.
“However, as you can imagine, the operator and the regulator have been telling us that the situation naturally continues to be extremely tense and challenging,” he added.
Mr Zelensky has described the bombing as “nuclear terrorism”, and warned – in a speech soon after the attack – that “the end of Europe” could have been brought about if there was an explosion in the plant.
He said he feared a nuclear explosion would have been “the end for everyone. The end for Europe. The evacuation of Europe”.
“Only urgent action by Europe can stop the Russian troops – prevent Europe from dying from a nuclear disaster” he added.
In a later address, Mr Zelensky called for an immediate no fly-zone over Ukraine amid the “Nazi-like occupation” of the country.
He then switched to speaking Russian to address the people of Russia.
Mr Zelensky said, according to a translation: “I want to address you. How is this possible? We together in ’86 battled the aftermath of the Chernobyl catastrophe.
“Surely you must remember the burning graphite spread by the wind. The deaths.
“You must remember the evacuation from Pripyat and from the 35-km zone. How could you forget? And if you didn’t forget, you can’t be silent.
“You must tell your leadership. You must get out onto the streets and tell them you want to live. You want to live on an earth that isn’t radioactive.
“Radiation doesn’t know where Russia is. Radiation doesn’t know where the borders of your country is.”
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