KYIV, Ukraine (NewsNation Now) — Ukrainian firefighters on Friday extinguished a fire at Europe’s biggest nuclear plant that was ignited by a Russian attack. UN and Ukrainian officials say no radiation was released, but Russian forces continue to press their campaign to cripple the country despite world condemnation.
The head of the United Nations’ atomic agency said that a Russian projectile hit a training center at the Zaporizhzhia plant. Ukrainian officials have said Russian troops took control of the overall site, but the plant’s staff are continuing to ensure its operations are under Ukrainian control.
The U.S. Embassy in Ukraine is calling the attack a war crime.
“It is a war crime to attack a nuclear power plant,” the embassy statement said. “Putin’s shelling of Europe’s largest nuclear plant takes his reign of terror one step further.”
The U.N. Security Council called an emergency meeting on Friday to address the attack. So far, the U.N. human rights office said 331 civilians had been killed in the invasion but that the true number is probably much higher.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov claimed it was Kyiv nationalists who carried out the provocation.
But Ukraine’s U.N. ambassador accused Russia of committing “an act of nuclear terrorism” by attacking the plant, saying that the Russian Defense Ministry was lying about a Ukrainian sabotage group being responsible for the fire.
Earlier that day, Ukraine’s state nuclear regulator said that no changes in radiation levels have been recorded so far after the plant came under attack. The attack caused worldwide concern — and evoked memories of the world’s worst nuclear disaster, at Ukraine’s Chernobyl.
“The possibility of extreme disaster is really low,” retired Col. Mark Cancian of the Marine Corps said on “Morning in America.” “The problem is it supplies so much of Ukraine’s electricity. … So far, the Russians have not been shutting down utilities, but this may have a real impact on Ukrainian society.”
Ukraine’s state nuclear plant operator Enerhoatom said that three Ukrainian soldiers were killed and two wounded in the attack. Grossi said two people were injured in the blaze that broke out.
Astrophysicist Robert Rosner of the University of Chicago said he was stunned Russia would fire on a nuclear reactor.
“I’m shocked that the Russians would attack the nuclear power plant,” he said. “It’s really completely unprecedented — and foolish.”
However, he cautioned against comparing the risk to what happened at Chernobyl.
“In this case, the principal concern is that if they continue the bombardment, they’ll hit the spent fuel — the used fuel that was taken out of the reactor — and put into a structure that is like a gigantic swimming pool,” Rosner said.
Despite a stiffer resistance than some expected when the war began, Ukraine remains outgunned. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy expressed anger toward NATO after the group rejected his call for air protection.
“All the people who die from this day forward will also die because of you, because of your weakness, because of your lack of unity,” he said Friday night. “The alliance has given the green light to the bombing of Ukrainian cities and villages by refusing to create a no-fly zone.”
NATO members, including the United States, are concerned it could spark a nuclear war with Russia.
The bombing of the plant came as the Russian military advanced on a strategic city on the Dnieper River near where the facility is located, and gained ground in its bid to cut the country off from the sea. That move would deal a severe blow to Ukraine’s economy and its people.
On Friday, the U.N. Human Rights Council voted overwhelmingly for a resolution condemning alleged rights violations during the Russian attack. The Human Rights Council voted 32-2, with 13 abstentions.
Only Russia and Eritrea opposed the resolution, with China abstaining. Zelenskyy said he welcomed the council’s investigation into Russia.
“Putin is a war criminal. This act of terror going after a nuclear power plant but also going after civilian neighborhoods, Kharkiv and elsewhere really indicates the nature of not only his power but the lengths he will go to continue the invasion,” retired Lt. Gen. Richard Newton of the Air Force said on “Morning in America.”
Also Friday, Roskomnadzor, Russia’s state communications watchdog, ordered access to Facebook and Twitter in the country be blocked.
The agency said it decided to cut citizens’ access to Facebook over its alleged “discrimination” against Russian media and state information resources. It said the restrictions introduced by Facebook owner Meta on the RT television network and other state-controlled media violate Russian law.
Meta said in a statement that soon, millions of ordinary Russians will find themselves cut off from reliable information, deprived of their everyday ways of connecting with family and friends and silenced from speaking out.
“We will continue to do everything we can to restore our services so they remain available to people to safely and securely express themselves and organize for action,” Meta said.
This takes the “partial restrictions” to Facebook access the watchdog announced a week ago a step further, and follows blocks imposed Friday on the BBC, German broadcaster Deutsche Welle, Latvia-based website Meduza and the U.S. government-funded Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. The Russian government has sought to uproot independent sources of information about the invasion of Ukraine.
Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a bill allowing for an up to 15-year prison sentence for those accused of spreading information that goes against the Russian government’s position on the war.
With the invasion in its second week, another round of talks between Russia and Ukraine led to a tentative agreement to set up safe corridors to evacuate citizens and deliver humanitarian aid to a country upended by a war that has sent more than 1 million fleeing across borders and countless others sheltering underground night after night. A handful of cities are without heat and at least one is struggling to get food and water.
In an emotional speech in the middle of the night, Zelenskyy said he feared an explosion that would be “the end for everyone. The end for Europe. The evacuation of Europe.”
Putin’s forces have brought their mass firepower to bear in the days since the invasion, launching hundreds of missiles and artillery attacks on cities and other sites around the country and making significant gains in the south.
NATO Secretary-General Jen Stoltenberg said that the military organization won’t police a no-fly zone over Ukraine, warning that such a move could end in a widespread war in Europe.
Speaking Friday after chairing a meeting of NATO foreign ministers, Stoltenberg said, “We are not going to move into Ukraine, neither on the ground nor in the Ukrainian airspace.”
“The only way to implement a no-fly zone is to send NATO fighter planes into Ukrainian airspace, and then impose that no-fly zone by shooting down Russian planes,” Stoltenberg said. “We have a responsibility as NATO allies to prevent this war from escalating beyond Ukraine.”
Zelenskyy has appealed to the West to enforce a no-fly zone over his country, most recently after a fire overnight at one of Ukraine’s nuclear plants, the largest in Europe.
On Thursday, Russians announced the capture of the southern city of Kherson, a vital Black Sea port of 280,000, and local Ukrainian officials confirmed the takeover of the government headquarters there, making it the first major city to fall since the invasion began.
Heavy fighting continued on the outskirts of another strategic port, Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. The battles have knocked out the city’s electricity, heat and water systems, as well as most phone service, officials said. Food deliveries to the city were also cut.
Ukraine’s defense minister said Friday that the flagship of its Navy has been scuttled at the shipyard where it was undergoing repairs in order to keep it from being seized by Russian forces. Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said on Facebook that the commander of the frigate Hetman Sahaidachny decided to flood the ship.
During the second round of talks between Ukrainian and Russian delegations Thursday, Putin warned Ukraine that it must quickly accept the Kremlin’s demand for its “demilitarization” and declare itself neutral, renouncing its bid to join NATO. Zelenskyy’s advisers have said a third round of talks is coming shortly.
Vice President Kamala Harris is set to travel to Poland and Romania next week to meet with officials to discuss the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the impact the war is having on the region.