Russia and Ukraine argue over clashes near nuclear facility

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — A fire at an ammunition depot inside Russia forced the evacuation of two villages near the Ukrainian border, an official said Friday, while two civilians were injured by Russian shelling near the plant. of Zaporizhzhia nuclear power when both sides exchanged accusations about fights near the facilities in southern Ukraine.

The fire affected the ammunition storage building near the village of Timonovo in Russia’s Belgorod region, on Ukraine’s northeastern border, on Thursday night. About 1,100 people live in Timovo and Soloti, about 25 kilometers (15 miles) from the border. No one was injured, Belgorod regional governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said.

The fire came days after another ammunition depot exploded on the Crimean Peninsula, a Russian-occupied territory on the Black Sea that was annexed by Moscow in 2014.

Last week, nine Russian warplanes were reported to have been destroyed at an air base in Crimea, demonstrating both the vulnerability of the Russians and the ability of the Ukrainians to strike deep behind enemy lines.

The Ukrainian authorities have not publicly claimed responsibility. But President Volodymyr Zelenskyy alluded to Ukrainian attacks behind enemy lines after the explosions in Crimea, which Russia blamed on “sabotage.”

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said in televised remarks on Friday that statements by Ukrainian officials about the attack on facilities in Crimea mark “an escalation of the conflict openly encouraged by the United States and its NATO allies.”

Ryabkov said Russian officials had warned the United States against such actions in phone calls with senior members of the Biden administration, adding that America’s “deep and open involvement” in the war in Ukraine “effectively puts the United States United on the brink of becoming a part.” to the conflict.”

Despite the latest incidents, a Western official said the war is “almost operationally paralyzed,” with neither side able to launch any major offensives.

“The entire pace of the campaign has slowed down, in part because both sides have become more aware that this is a marathon, not a sprint, and that spending rates and conserving your ammunition matter,” he said. an official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to discuss intelligence matters publicly.

Later on Friday, a Ukrainian official said two civilians were injured in Russian shelling of Ukrainian communities near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, the latest in a long series of such shelling accusations in recent weeks.

“A new enemy attack in the Nikopol district. Five shells fired by the Russian cannon artillery flew into the residential areas of Marhanets,” Valentyn Reznichenko, the regional governor, said on Telegram. Both Nikopol and Marhanets are Ukrainian-controlled cities that face the nuclear plant across the Dnieper River.

“According to preliminary reports, two people have been injured: an 18-year-old girl and a 40-year-old man. They are both in the hospital,” Reznichenko added.

Kyiv and Moscow continued to blame each other for the bombing near Europe’s largest nuclear power plant.

A senior official in Ukraine’s presidential office told reporters that “the threat of an environmental catastrophe on a global scale” persists due to the “regular shelling” of the plant by the Russian military.

Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of the presidential office, said at the same briefing that Russian shelling had destroyed “more than 3,700 infrastructure objects” in the vicinity of the plant, including heating, electricity, gas and water supply facilities.

Zelenskyy also highlighted the situation around the Zaporizhzhia plant in his speech on Friday night.

“If Russia’s radiation blackmail continues, this summer may go down in the history of several European countries as one of the most tragic of all time. Because not a single instruction in any nuclear power plant in the world provides a procedure in case a terrorist state makes a nuclear power plant a target,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin said Russian President Vladimir Putin told his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron in their first phone conversation since May 28 that Ukrainian bombing around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant “increased the threat of a large-scale catastrophe that could lead to the radioactive contamination of large territories.”

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear facility in southern Ukraine has been controlled by Russian forces since shortly after the invasion. started on February 24. Ukraine accused Russia to store troops and weapons at the plant and use its land to launch attacks against Ukrainian-controlled territory. Ukrainian officials and military analysts say Moscow forces have cynically used the plant as a shield, knowing the Ukrainians would hesitate to return fire.

Russia has denied the accusations and, in turn, accused Ukrainian forces of repeatedly bombing the plant.

The French presidency said in a statement that Macron “highlighted his concerns” regarding the situation at the Zaporizhzhia plant and expressed support for the deployment of an International Atomic Energy Agency mission to the site “as soon as possible.”

Putin agreed to the deployment of the mission under the terms discussed, according to the French statement. The Kremlin said that “the Russian side reaffirmed its readiness to offer the necessary assistance to the agency’s experts.”

Yevgeny Balitsky, the Moscow-backed temporary administration chief for the Russian-controlled part of the Zaporizhzhia region, said on Friday that an IAEA mission could approach the plant from Ukrainian-controlled territory, a change in Moscow’s position that he had previously suggested that the mission should travel to the Crimean plant.

“I think they can also come from the Ukraine side,” Balitsky said in televised remarks. “We can get them into the plant safely and show where the fire is coming from and who is shooting.”

Mikhail Ulyanov, the Russian envoy to international organizations in Vienna, where the IAEA is based, said he believes an agency visit could realistically take place in early September.

IN OTHER DEVELOPMENTS:

— State-owned energy company Gazprom announced that a key Russian natural gas pipeline will be shut down for three days of maintenance later this month, adding to economic pressure on Germany and other European countries that rely on the fuel to boost industry, generate electricity and heat homes. The latest shutdown will come a month after Gazprom restored natural gas supply through the pipeline to just a fifth of capacity after an earlier shutdown for maintenance. Russia has attributed the reductions through the pipeline to technical problems, but Germany has said the closures are a political move by the Kremlin to sow uncertainty and drive up prices amid the conflict in Ukraine.

— UN Secretary-General António Guterres visited a port in the Ukrainian coastal city of Odessa, where he praised ongoing efforts to maintain a Black Sea shipping corridor that would allow the export of Ukraine’s vital grain shipments. Guterres said 25 ships have left Odessa and other Ukrainian ports since Russia and Ukraine signed a four-month grain export deal in July. Those ships have transported more than 600,000 tons of cereals and other foods such as wheat, corn, sunflower oil and soybeans, Guterres said.

__ Responding to a report that Russia plans to divert electricity from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant to the Russian power grid, the UN chief said the UN supports the demilitarization of the plant, saying that if this is done, the problem will be resolved. “And obviously, Zaporizhzhia’s electricity is Ukrainian electricity, and it is necessary, especially during the winter for the Ukrainian people, and this principle must be fully respected,” Guterres said.

— At least five people were killed and 10 others wounded in Russian shelling of towns and villages in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region, according to regional authorities. Russian shelling of the city of Kharkiv also killed at least one civilian early Friday. Russian missiles again attacked port facilities and a university building in the southern port city of Mykolaiv.

__ The Ukrainian military said it had thwarted more than a dozen Russian attempts to advance into the eastern Donetsk region, at the forefront of Moscow’s offensive. In its regular social media update, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces also reported that Russia continued to shell towns and villages in southern and eastern Ukraine.

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The Russian-installed governor of Crimea’s largest city said a drone had been shot down there. “The air defense system is working in Sevastopol,” Mikhail Razvozhayev said on Telegram. “According to preliminary data, unmanned aerial vehicles. The targets were shot down,” he said. On Thursday, Razvozhayev reported that a drone had been shot down near the local Sevastopol airport. His claims could not be immediately verified.

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Jill Lawless in London contributed.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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