Ukraine war news: Russia unleashes deadly missile barrage, cutting power to Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant

Ukraine war news: Russia unleashes deadly missile barrage, cutting power to Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant

Dnipro, Ukraine — Russia hit Ukraine on Thursday with its most punitive strikes in nearly a month. A barrage of rockets and explosive drones fell in a fierce attack that hit cities from the capital Kiev to the vital southern port of Odesa and to the far western city of Lviv.

At least nine people were killed, according to Ukrainian officials, and millions more were left in the cold and in the dark after the attacks hit power infrastructure – including cutting vital electricity supplies back to the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, the most large atomic energy in Europe.

A view of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant as the war between Russia and Ukraine continues, from Nikopol, Ukraine, March 3, 2023. Mustafa Ciftci/Anadolu Agency/Getty

Ukraine’s nuclear power operator Energoatom said “the last power line between the occupied Zaporizhzhia NPP [Nuclear Power Plant] and the Ukrainian power system was disrupted as a result of the missile attacks.” The company said it was the sixth time the sprawling facility had been cut off from the country’s power grid since Russian troops occupied it last year. Russia accused Ukrainian forces of causing the outage. , as happened in all previous cases.

Whenever the power goes out, the plant relies on old diesel generators to keep its vital cooling systems running, but they can only do the job for about 10 days.

“The countdown has begun. If it is impossible to renew the station’s external power supply during this time, an accident with radiation consequences for the whole world could occur,” Energoatom warned on Thursday.

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Rafael Grossi, head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog IAEA, issued a new appeal on Thursday for a safe demilitarized zone around the Russian-held plant, saying he was “surprised” that such a sensitive structure was still at risk from the war.

“Every time we roll the dice. And if we allow this to continue time and time again, then one day our luck will run out,” Grossi told the agency’s Board of Governors in Austria, according to a statement. “This is the sixth time – let me say it again – the sixth time, that ZNPP has lost all power abroad and had to operate in this state of emergency. Let me remind you, this is the largest power plant nuclear power in Europe. What are we doing? How can we sit here in this room this morning and allow this to happen? This cannot go on. I am amazed at the complacency.”

In January, the IAEA announced plans to establish a “continuous presence” at all of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants “to help prevent a nuclear accident,” but ongoing fighting around Zaporizhzhia has made that impossible at that facility.

Police inspect damage from a Russian missile attack in a residential neighborhood of Kiev, Ukraine, March 9, 2023. Vladyslav Musiienko/Suspilne Ukraine/JSC “UA:PBC”/Global Images Ukraine/Getty

In the shell-shocked central city of Dnipro, residents’ fears were more immediate after the overnight rocket attacks, and some struggled to understand why their city was a target for Vladimir Putin’s attack.

“It doesn’t make sense to me how this can be in the 21st century,” said 60-year-old Igor Yezhov, calling the Russian attackers “wild people – just wild.”

Throughout the winter, the Kremlin has relentlessly targeted Ukraine’s power and civilian infrastructure with missiles and drones, but it is the eastern mining town of Bakhmut where the ground war remains most intense.

The head of the Kremlin-linked Russian mercenary group, Wagner, claims his fighters have captured key urban areas after seven months of street battles in the city.

Russian mercenaries for “lies” that lured them to Ukraine

Moscow has thrown wave after wave of fighters, many from the Wagner Group, into the battle for Bakhmut, desperate to take the entire city in what would be its first major territorial gain in more than half a year.

In the battered town of Chasiv Yar, just a few miles west of Bakhmut in Ukrainian-held territory, CBS News met Baida, a soldier who had just returned from the front lines. Aged 55, he said he never expected to be a soldier before Russia invaded his country and he admitted the battle was “really hard”.

He spoke to us in front of the armored car he had driven into battle, which he credited with saving his life and that of his fellow soldiers on many occasions.

“This vehicle is very strong, it survives anti-tank mines, it keeps personnel safe, it survives rocket-propelled grenades and anti-tank missiles,” he said. “I can give examples of when we attacked him and he stood strong, holding 120[mm] mortars. It maneuvers well, it performs well in mud and forests, it is stable”.

Ukrainian soldier “Baida” points to the armored personnel carrier he credits with saving his life on multiple occasions while participating in the battle for Bakhmut, as he speaks to CBS News in the nearby city of Chasiv Yar, Ukraine, in early March 2023. Agnes Reau/CBS News

But Baida, a call sign, knows nothing can protect him or his fellow soldiers every time.

“One of our people died yesterday, the driver of the same vehicle,” he said. “That’s the way it is. We hope everything is okay… There is loss, but without that we can’t win.”

These losses were keenly felt at the funeral of 29-year-old doctor Yama Rikhlitska, who was killed while treating wounded soldiers at a field hospital outside Bakhmut.

“Oh Yana,” cried her mother in anguish as she said her last farewell, “my child, my little one.”

As Ukrainians continue to pay the ultimate price in this war now in its second year, there is a grim acknowledgment that the brutal conflict is showing no signs of easing, let alone ending.

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