Ukraine's nuclear state operator Energoatom said on Thursday that Russia has shelled and damaged power lines connecting Europe's largest nuclear power plant to the Ukrainian grid, leaving the plant reliant on diesel generators again.
The generators have enough fuel to maintain the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in southeastern Ukraine for just 15 days, Energoatom said in a post on its Telegram channel.
“The countdown has begun,” Energoatom said, noting it had limited possibilities to “maintain the ZNPP in a safe mode,” raising fears of a potential nuclear disaster.
With its six reactors inoperative, the plant relies on outside electricity to cool its spent fuel.
Russia and Ukraine have traded blame for months amid the war for shelling at and around the plant that the UN's nuclear watchdog has warned could cause a radiation emergency.
The nuclear power plant lies within part of the Zaporizhzhia region that has been occupied by Russian forces since the early days of the war, which began when Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24.
Although Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree transferring the plant to Russian ownership, Ukrainian workers continue to run the plant.
Energoatom has repeatedly called for the withdrawal of Russian forces from the plant and the creation of a demilitarised zone around it.
Energoatom said on Thursday that Russia had shelled two power lines that were connecting the plant to the Ukrainian grid overnight, and accused it of being “an attempt to reconnect the nuclear plant to the Russian power system.” The operator said the Russian side would try to repair the power lines in order to connect the plant to the Russian grid and therefore supply power to occupied Crimea and the parts of the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas also currently controlled by Russia.
Across the Dnipro River from the power plant, the city of Nikopol was also shelled, damaging residential buildings, a gas station and several private enterprises, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's office said on Thursday.
Other Ukrainian cities were also hit, with Russia using drones, missiles and heavy artillery that left six civilians dead and 16 others wounded, according to the president's office.
Energy and water infrastructure facilities were hit in Mr. Zelenskyy's native city of Kryvyi Rih, leaving several districts without electricity or water in the city that had a prewar population of 635,000 people, local Gov Oleksandr Vilkul said.
Further east in the Donetsk region, battles continued for the towns of Bakhmut and Avdiivka, where authorities said the population was living without electricity or heat and were under constant shelling.
Over the past day, six cities and villages in the region were attacked by heavy artillery, while in the northeast, Ukraine's second-largest city of Kharkiv was hit by three missiles, officials said.
Separately, seven ships carrying 290,000 tons of agricultural products set sail from Ukrainian seaports heading to Asia and Europe, a day after Russia agreed to rejoin a wartime agreement allowing Ukrainian grain and other commodities to be shipped to world markets.
In announcing Russia was rejoining the pact, Mr. Putin said Moscow had received assurances that Ukraine wouldn't use the humanitarian corridors to attack Russian forces.
He warned that Russia reserves the right to withdraw again if Kyiv breaks its word.
Russia had suspended its participation in the grain deal over the weekend, citing an alleged drone attack against its Black Sea fleet in Crimea.
Ukraine didn't claim responsibility for an attack and Mr. Zelenskyy said Wednesday that Moscow's return to the agreement showed “Russian blackmail did not lead to anything.” In Moscow, the Russian Foreign Ministry summoned U.K. Ambassador Deborah Bronnert on Thursday, saying she was called in connection with the alleged participation of British instructors in the October 29 attack by drones on Black Sea fleet facilities in Sevastopol in Crimea.
Ms. Bronnert made no comment upon leaving the ministry after a meeting that lasted about a half-hour.
The ships that set sail on Thursday included one carrying 29,000 tons of sunflower seeds bound for Oman, and one carrying 67,000 tons of corn heading to China, according to the Ministry of Infrastructure.
Since the deal was reached in August, 430 ships have exported 10 million tons of Ukrainian agricultural products to countries in Africa, Asia and Europe.
The infrastructure ministry said that export volumes in October “could have been 30-40% higher if Russia had not artificially blocked inspections in the Bosphorus.”