Ukraine war: 'Russia orders its staff to leave Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant'

·18 min read
A serviceman with a Russian flag on his uniform stands guard near the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict outside the Russian-controlled city of Enerhodar in the Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine August 4, 2022 - ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO
A serviceman with a Russian flag on his uniform stands guard near the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict outside the Russian-controlled city of Enerhodar in the Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine August 4, 2022 - ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO

Russia has told its workers stationed at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant not to go to work on Friday, according to a Ukrainian military intelligence official.

Andriy Yusov told NBC News that he had received information that Moscow had ordered Rosatom, the state-run nuclear firm, officials to steer clear of the facility, which has become the main flashpoint in the war in Ukraine.

Russia’s defence ministry has also warned it could shut down the remaining two operating reactors at the facility because of alleged “Ukrainian shelling”.

It comes after Russia accused Ukraine of planning a “false flag” attack on the Zaporizhzhia plant.

Kremlin forces have transformed Europe’s largest nuclear plant into a “safe zone” used to launch artillery fire at targets in Ukrainian-held territories on the western bank of the Dniper river, with little chance of return fire.

The conflict in and around the nuclear power plant has sparked international fears of a radioactive disaster on the same level as the Chernobyl meltdown of 1986.

Follow the latest updates below. 

04:37 PM

Estonia defends decision to ban Russian tourists in stand against Putin's 'genocidal war'

Estonia's foreign minister on Thursday defended his country's decision to bar Russian tourists, saying they are shirking their "moral responsibility" to stand up to Russian President Vladimir Putin's regime and its "genocidal war" in Ukraine.

"Our idea is to give a signal to all our European partners, all our Western community partners, to close down our borders to Russian citizens, except humanitarian cases," Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu told The Associated Press in an interview in Tallinn. "Russian citizens are not welcome in Europe. Their country is committing a genocidal war against an innocent people."

Despite bans on air travel from Russia to the European Union, Russians have been able to vacation in western Europe this summer by traveling by land through Estonia and other neighboring countries with tourist visas that are valid throughout Europe's border-free travel zone.

Mr Reinsalu said "hundreds of thousands" of Russian citizens passing through Estonian soil posed an "evident security threat" and dismissed concerns that the visa ban could backfire by turning ordinary Russians against Europe and the West.

04:20 PM

Russia threatens to shut off Zaporizhzia reactors over alleged Ukrainian shelling

Russia’s defence ministry said on Thursday it could shut down the remaining operating reactors at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant because of the “threat of shelling from Ukraine”.

Moscow and Kyiv have traded blame for a recent spate of attacks around the facility, which have sparked fears of a Chernobyl-like disaster.

Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, on Thursday accused Russia of blackmailing the world with nuclear catastrophe by sheltering its troops and weapons in the plant.

Energoatom, Ukraine’s state-run nuclear energy firm, warned shutting down the Zaporizhzhia plant would “bring a possible scenario of radiation disaster closer”.

03:53 PM

Russian ship carrying 'plundered' Ukraine grain 'reaches Syria'

A Russian cargo ship allegedly carrying stolen Ukrainian grain has reached Syria, Kyiv's embassy in Beirut said Thursday.

"According to our information, SV KONSTANTIN has docked in Syria," the embassy said.

It said the ship was carrying "grains that were plundered and illegally transported by the Russian occupation authorities", adding that the vessel was initially destined for the Lebanese port of Tripoli.

Ukraine has repeatedly accused Russian forces of ransacking its grain warehouses since they invaded the country in late February.

The embassy's statement came as another cargo ship carrying the first shipment of grain allowed to leave Ukraine under a UN-backed deal reportedly unloaded its cargo at the Syrian port of Tartus, which is managed by a Russian firm.

03:39 PM

In pictures: Destruction in Kharkiv

Ukraine - SERGEY BOBOK/AFP/Getty Images 
Ukraine - SERGEY BOBOK/AFP/Getty Images
Ukraine - SERGEY BOBOK/AFP/Getty Images
Ukraine - SERGEY BOBOK/AFP/Getty Images
Ukraine - AP/Andrii Marienko
Ukraine - AP/Andrii Marienko
Ukraine - AP/Andrii Marienko
Ukraine - AP/Andrii Marienko

03:00 PM

Zelensky calls on UN to 'ensure security' of nuclear plant

Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian President, has called on the United Nations to ensure security at the Zaporizhzhia power plant, where increased fighting has raised fears of a nuclear incident.

"The UN must ensure the security of this strategic object, its demilitarisation and complete liberation from Russian troops," Mr Zelensky said in a statement after meeting Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary general, in Lviv.

He also said he and Mr Guterres had discussed a UN-brokered deal aimed at easing a worsening global food crisis, and agreed that coordination of efforts under it to ensure Ukrainian exports should continue.

"We agreed to continue the coordination of the grain initiative implementation," he said.

"We also discussed the possible directions of its development, the issue of illegal and forced deportation of Ukrainians, the release of our military personnel and medics from captivity."

02:47 PM

Russia engaging in 'quiet diplomacy with US on Brittney Griner prisoner swap'

Russia's foreign ministry said on Thursday it was engaged in "quiet diplomacy" with the United States regarding a potential prisoner swap that would include basketball star Brittney Griner.

Ms Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medallist, was sentenced to nine years in prison in Russia on drug charges on August 4, in a ruling President Joe Biden called "unacceptable".

"Quiet diplomacy is under way and it should bear fruit if Washington follows it, and not fall into propaganda through media hype to score points before an election," said Ivan Nechayev, a spokesman for the Russian foreign ministry, referring to the US midterm elections in November.

Brittney Griner - EVGENIA NOVOZHENINA/AFP
Brittney Griner - EVGENIA NOVOZHENINA/AFP

The Kremlin had previously said that US officials were undermining efforts to secure a prisoner swap by resorting to "megaphone diplomacy" over the case.

Washington has offered to exchange Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout for Ms Griner and former Marine Paul Whelan, sources familiar with the situation said.

Ms Griner, who had been prescribed medical cannabis in the US to relieve pain from chronic injuries, was arrested on February 17 at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport with vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage.

02:41 PM

Nuclear weapons will only be used in 'emergency circumstances', says Russia

Russia's foreign ministry said on Thursday that Moscow would only use its nuclear arsenal in "emergency circumstances" and that it has no interest in a direct confrontation with Nato and the United States.

Russia's defence minister had said on Tuesday that Moscow has "no need" to use nuclear weapons during its military campaign in Ukraine, describing media speculation that Moscow might deploy nuclear or chemical weapons in the conflict as "absolute lies".

Speaking at a briefing on Thursday, Ivan Nechaev, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, said nuclear weapons would be used solely as a "response" measure.

"Russian military doctrine allows a nuclear response only in response to the threat of mass destruction, or when the very existence of the state is threatened," he said.

"That is, the use of a nuclear arsenal is possible only as part of a response to an attack in self-defenCe and only in emergencies."

02:35 PM

Recap: Three dead and 18 wounded in attack on Kharkiv

Three people died and 18 were wounded in pre-dawn shelling of a residential area in the eastern city of Kharkiv, Oleh Synehubov, the regional governor said.

"At the moment, there are 18 wounded, among them two children, one person died," Mr Synehubov wrote on the Telegram messaging app.

A day earlier six people died and another 16 were wounded in a Russian rocket attack on the city.

The strikes come as an adviser to Volodymyr Zelensky said the conflict has reached a "strategic deadlock".

"Russian forces have achieved only minimal advances, and in some cases we have advanced, since last month," Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said in a video. "What we are seeing is a 'strategic deadlock.'"

01:09 PM

Ukrainian family reunited with 'George the dog'

12:10 PM

Listen: has Russia committed a cyber war crime?

12:01 PM

Russia lost 'more than 44,000 soldiers' - Kyiv

11:34 AM

Ship that Ukraine alleges has stolen grain likely off Syria

A Russian cargo ship that Ukraine alleges holds stolen grain from territory seized by Moscow appears to have reached the Syrian port of Tartus, according to satellite images analysed by AP.

The arrival of the SV Konstantin marks just the latest shipment of Ukrainian grain - whether legally purchased or allegedly looted - to reach Syria. Another, the Razoni, recently docked full of legally purchased Ukrainian corn as part of a United Nations-led effort to get the country's food out of the war zone to a hungry world.

The Konstantin's arrival also shows the level Damascus has relied on Russia to keep its embattled President Bashar Assad in power amid his own nation's years-long war, particularly at this Mediterranean Sea port that hosts Russian warships and has crucial Russian-run grain silos.

The Konstantin traveled from the Russian-occupied Crimean Peninsula in the Black Sea from around July 6, according to ship-tracking data from MarineTraffic.com.

The ship had loaded Ukrainian grain at Sevastopol, said Ihor Ostash, Ukraine's ambassador to Lebanon, during an interview with Espreso TV. That port city in Crimea has seen Russian forces previously bring grain by truck from occupied territories, Ukrainian officials say.

10:58 AM

Ukrainian artillery destroy hidden Russian military vehicles

10:39 AM

Turkey says first Swedish extradition falls short of demands

Turkey's justice minister has said Sweden's pledge to extradite a Turkish convict fell far short of Stockholm's commitments under a deal paving the way for its Nato membership bid.

Naro member Turkey is threatening to freeze Sweden's attempts to join the Western defence alliance unless it extradites dozens of people Ankara accuses of "terrorism".

A non-binding deal Sweden and fellow Nato aspirant Finland signed with Turkey in June commits them to "expeditiously and thoroughly" examine Ankara's requests for suspects linked to a 2016 coup attempt and outlawed Kurdish militants.

The Swedish government said earlier this month that it would extradite Okan Kale - a man convicted of credit card fraud who appeared on a list of people sought by Ankara published by Turkish media.

Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag told the conservative Milliyet news site that Sweden needed to do far more to win Turkey's trust.

"If they think that by extraditing ordinary criminals to Turkey they will make us believe that they have fulfilled their promises, they are wrong," Mr Bozdag said in the first government response to the extradition decision.

"Nobody should test Turkey," he warned.

10:15 AM

Russia 'may shut down Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant' if shelling continues

Russia's Defence Ministry says the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant may be shut down if Ukrainian forces continue shelling the facility, something Kyiv has denied doing.

In a briefing, Igor Kirillov, head of Russia's radioactive, chemical and biological defence forces, said the plant's back-up support systems had been damaged as a result of shelling.

Mr Kirillov said that in the event of an accident at the plant, radioactive material would cover Germany, Poland and Slovakia.

The Zaporizhzhia plant was seized by Russian forces in March. It remains close to front lines, and has repeatedly come under shelling in recent weeks. Russia and Ukraine have blamed each other for strikes on the plant.

09:49 AM

Russian tank catches fire after Ukrainian drone drops grenade on it

09:21 AM

Ukraine: The latest

08:56 AM

Nuclear drill in Ukraine 'to prepare for all scenarios'

Ukraine must "prepare for all scenarios" linked to a Russian-occupied nuclear plant, the interior minister has said during a drill for emergency workers in the nearby city of Zaporizhzhia.

Moscow and Kyiv have accused each other of shelling the Zaporizhzhia plant, the biggest atomic power station in Europe, which has been under Russian control since March.

The tensions around the facility have sparked fears of another nuclear disaster in Europe like the one in Chernobyl in then Soviet Ukraine in 1986.

"Nobody could have predicted that Russian troops would be firing on nuclear reactors with tanks. It is incredible," Interior Minister Denys Monastyrsky said in the Ukrainian-held city of Zaporizhzhia, 31 miles from the plant.

After watching a nuclear accident drill on Wednesday, he said Ukraine should be prepared since "as long as the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant is controlled by Russia, there are major risks".

Dozens of Ukrainian emergency workers wearing gas masks and hazmat suits took part in the drill in which they practised evacuating an injured person and washing down contaminated vehicles.

08:34 AM

Romania stamps Russian passports with message: F*** off Russian warship

Romanian border control officers have reportedly begun stamping Russian passports with the phrase 'F*** off Russian warship', an apparent homage to Ukrainian the soldiers on Snake Island.

08:14 AM

Russian strikes, in pictures

Ukraine war: Russia kills seven in fresh strikes on Kharkiv - STRINGER/REUTERS
Ukraine war: Russia kills seven in fresh strikes on Kharkiv - STRINGER/REUTERS
Ukraine war: Russia kills seven in fresh strikes on Kharkiv - Vadim Belikov /AP
Ukraine war: Russia kills seven in fresh strikes on Kharkiv - Vadim Belikov /AP
Ukraine war: Russia kills seven in fresh strikes on Kharkiv - Anadolu Agency /Anadolu 
Ukraine war: Russia kills seven in fresh strikes on Kharkiv - Anadolu Agency /Anadolu

07:43 AM

'No heavy weapons' deployed at Zaporizhzhia - Kremlin

Russia's defence ministry has said its forces did not have heavy weapons deployed at Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, accusing Kyiv of preparing a "provocation" at the station.

"Russian troops have no heavy weapons either on the territory of the station or in areas around it. There are only guard units," the ministry said in a statement.

The Kremlin also accused Ukraine of planning a "provocation" at Zaporizhzhia as UN Secretary General Antonio Guteres is due to visit Ukraine on August 19.

07:24 AM

One dead, 18 wounded in Kharkiv shelling

One person has died and 18 were wounded in pre-dawn shelling of a residential area in the eastern city of Kharkiv, Oleh Synehubov, the regional governor said.

"At the moment, there are 18 wounded, among them two children, one person died," Mr Synehubov wrote on the Telegram messaging app.

A day earlier six people died and another 16 were wounded in a Russian rocket attack on the city.

07:01 AM

MoD explains possible reason for heavy attrition

The UK's Ministry of Defence (MoD) has said the heavy attrition of Russian Main Battle Tanks in Ukraine is highly likely partially due to Russia’s failure to fit and properly employ adequate Explosive Reactive Armour (ERA).

"Used correctly, ERA degrades the effectiveness of incoming projectiles before they hit the tank. This suggests that Russian forces have not rectified a culture of poor ERA use, which dates back to the First Chechen War in 1994," MoD posted on social media on Thursday morning.

"It is highly likely that many Russian tank crews lack the training to maintain ERA, leading to either poor fitting of the explosive elements, or it being left off entirely.

"These deficiencies probably contribute to the widespread incidents of turret ejection, which are well documented in eye-witness videos from Ukraine.

"The war has seen numerous failures by Russian commanders to enforce low-level battle discipline – such as the use of ERA. The cumulative effect of these failures is likely a significant factor behind the poor performance of Russia’s forces."

06:56 AM

Daily Defence update

06:29 AM

Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant mission 'urgent'

Ukraine's Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba said he emphasised the urgency of the situation surrounding  the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in a phone call to IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi.

During the discussion, Mr Grossi said he was "ready to lead an IAEA delegation" to Europe's largest nuclear plant amid fears shelling of the power station could lead to disaster.

"I emphasised the mission’s urgency to address nuclear security threats caused by Russia’s hostilities," Mr Kuleba said on Thursday.

05:22 AM

Stop ‘cancelling’ Russians and get them on our side instead

Ukraine should stop “cancelling” Russian people and instead try to peel them away from Vladimir Putin’s regime,  a top adviser to Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, said on Wednesday.

Oleksiy Arestovych hit out at fellow citizens for “letting their emotions get the better of them and cancelling [all Russians]” in a lengthy post on social media.

Mr Arestovych, a former intelligence officer, issued the statement amid fierce debate on whether the West should stop allowing Russian citizens to visit on holiday, as a form of collective punishment for the war in Ukraine.

“These are tens and hundreds of thousands of people sitting on the fence who could switch to our side,” he wrote.

“And now they’re not going to do it.”

Read the full story by Nataliya Vasilyeva here

04:24 AM

In pictures: Devastation after missile strikes in Ukraine

A firefighter works at a site of a hotel building hit by a Russian missile strike in a resort area in Odesa region, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues - Reuters
A firefighter works at a site of a hotel building hit by a Russian missile strike in a resort area in Odesa region, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues - Reuters
Local residents inspect a crater following a strike in Druzhkivka village, Donetsk - AFP
Local residents inspect a crater following a strike in Druzhkivka village, Donetsk - AFP
A burning building hit by a Russian missile strike in a resort area in Odesa region - Reuters
A burning building hit by a Russian missile strike in a resort area in Odesa region - Reuters

04:07 AM

UN chief to meet with Zelensky, Erdogan

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan in Ukraine on Thursday, with grain exports and concerns about the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant at the top of the agenda.

The meeting marks Mr Erdogan's first in-person discussion with Mr Zelensky since Russia's invasion began.

Mr Guterres, who arrived in Lviv on Wednesday afternoon, plans on Friday to visit the Black Sea port of Odesa, where grain exports have resumed under a UN-brokered deal aimed at easing a worsening global food crisis.

He will then travel on Saturday to the Joint Coordination Centre in Istanbul that is made up of Russian, Ukrainian, Turkish and UN officials overseeing the Black Sea exports.

Mr Erdogan's office said he would address ways to increase exports of grain and steps that could be taken towards ending the war between Ukraine and Russia through diplomatic means.

02:50 AM

'Despicable and cynical': Zelensky condemns strike on Kharkiv

Volodymyr Zelensky called Russia's strike on a residential area of Kharkiv on Wednesday "despicable and cynical".

The death toll from the strikes has risen to seven people, with another 16 injured.

Mr Zelensky said a block of flats was "totally destroyed" in the attack, which he said "had no justification and shows the powerlessness of the aggressor".

"We will not forgive, we will take revenge," he said on the Telegram app.

The strike started a fire in a block of flats in the northeastern city, mayor Igor Terekhov said on Telegram.

Fire rages after a rocket hit the Saltivka residential area in Kharkiv - Shutterstock
Fire rages after a rocket hit the Saltivka residential area in Kharkiv - Shutterstock

01:51 AM

Today's top stories

  • Russian shelling in a residential area of Kharkiv on Wednesday killed seven people and injured 16

  • Ukrainian forces said on Thursday they had beaten back a Russian attack in the southern region of Kherson

  • Following a series of blasts deep in occupied Crimea, the Kremlin claimed six Islamist terrorists had been detained

  • Ukraine's defence minister has said no US-supplied Himars rocket systems have been lost, despite Russian repeated claims to have destroyed them

  • The UK Government is reportedly considering doubling the monthly payments to hosts of the Homes for Refugees scheme to £700

  • UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has arrived in Ukraine, ahead of talks over a diplomatic solution to the war with Ukrainian and Turkish presidents in Kyiv on Thursday

  • Nato has urged Russia to allow UN's atomic watchdog to inspect the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant

  • Russia has appointed a new Black Sea fleet commander, following a series of explosions in Crimea and the devastating sinking of the Moskva warship in April