Ukraine and its allies expressed anger on Friday after Europe’s largest nuclear power plant was attacked and seized by invading Russian forces, which continued to shell major cities.
Zaporizhzhya’s six reactors, which can power up to four million homes, appeared undamaged by the fighting and a fire that broke out at a training facility.
But Kiev accused the Kremlin of “nuclear terror”, and US envoy to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the attack was “incredibly reckless and dangerous”.
The UN ambassador to Moscow called allegations that Russian troops fired on the factory part of “an unprecedented campaign of lies”.
According to Ukraine, thousands of civilians have been killed since President Vladimir Putin’s army invaded on February 24 and claimed to be fighting a west-leaning “Nazi” threat at the border.
At a hospital in Kiev, wounded soldiers told AFP about their grim struggle against the Russian advance into the capital and vowed to return to the front line.
“We were reconnaissance and encountered an enemy column that had made a breakthrough,” said Motyka, 29, who was hit on his right by shrapnel.
“We fought them and killed their soldiers on foot, but they shelled us with mortar fire.”
On Friday, rocket and bomb attacks on cities continued, the Ukrainian military said on Facebook, adding that the main focus of Russian forces has been to surround Kiev.
It added that Russian artillery and multiple missile launch systems pounded residential buildings and infrastructure.
President Volodymyr Zelensky said the attack on the nuclear power plant “could have stopped the story, the history of Ukraine, the history of Europe”.
“Russian tank commanders knew what they were shooting at,” he said, adding: “The terrorist state now resorted to nuclear terror.”
Zelensky will address the U.S. Senate via Zoom on Saturday at Kiev’s request, a U.S. lawmaker said.
As the war intensifies, some US lawmakers are urging President Joe Biden to take a tougher stance on Russia, for example by suspending imports of its oil.
‘Horrible, horrific consequences’
“We are faced together with what is President Putin’s elective war, unprovoked, unjustified, and a war that has horrific, horrific consequences,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in Brussels.
“We are determined to do everything we can to make it stop.”
With fears of a nuclear conflict mounting, US and Russian armed forces have set up a new direct telephone line to reduce the risks of “miscalculation,” the Pentagon said Friday.
But Putin has remained unmoved, as Russia has become an economic, sporting and cultural pariah.
According to the Kremlin, Putin told his Belarusian counterpart that “the tasks set for the (Ukraine) operations are proceeding according to plan and will be fully fulfilled”.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called on Russians to “unite around our president” after thousands braved mass arrests this week in anti-war demonstrations.
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Authorities have imposed a news shutdown and two liberal media groups have ceased operations.
Several media websites, including the BBC, were partially inaccessible in Russia.
Twitter was restricted and Facebook blocked.
The BBC and Bloomberg said they had suspended work in Russia after lawmakers in Moscow passed legislation to impose fines and prison terms of up to 15 years on anyone who posts “fake news” about the military.
CNN said it would stop broadcasting in Russia, while independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta said it would remove content from Ukraine in the wake of the new law.
Russia has intensified attacks in Ukraine with new reports of civilian casualties and devastating damage, especially in southern areas near Kherson, the first city to fall to Moscow’s troops.
Fearing its own war with nuclear-armed Russia, NATO once again ruled out maintaining a no-fly zone over Ukraine.
Zelensky bitterly criticized NATO, saying it had “given the green light for further bombing of Ukrainian cities and towns”.
Mariupol, east of Kherson, is shut down in the middle of winter with no water or electricity.
The deputy mayor of the port city, Sergei Orlov, told BBC radio the situation was “terrible” after 40 hours of shelling of schools and hospitals, among others.
“I believe (Putin) wants to destroy Ukraine as a nation,” he said.
In the northern city of Chernihiv, 47 people were killed on Thursday when Russian troops bombed residential areas, including schools and a high-rise apartment building, according to a new toll issued by local officials.
Putin has denied bombing cities.
‘Whole world against you’
Ukrainian authorities say residential areas of the eastern city of Kharkiv have also come under indiscriminate shelling, which UN prosecutors in The Hague are investigating as a possible war crime.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba demanded a special tribunal, claiming there were “unfortunately numerous cases of Russian soldiers raping women in Ukrainian cities”.
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In Geneva, the UN Human Rights Council voted overwhelmingly to launch a high-level investigation into the violations of the invasion.
“The message to Putin was clear: you are isolated on a global level and the whole world is against you,” Ukrainian ambassador Yevheniia Filipenko said after the vote.
The UN Security Council will also hold an emergency meeting on Monday to discuss the humanitarian crisis caused in Ukraine by the Russian invasion and discuss a possible draft resolution, diplomats told AFP on Friday.
The UN says more than 1.2 million refugees have poured into neighboring countries from Ukraine.
The global agency’s food agency warned on Friday that the conflict would spark a food crisis in Ukraine and exacerbate global food insecurity, with Moscow and Kiev accounting for about 29% of global wheat trade.
“The bullets and bombs in Ukraine could take the global hunger crisis to a higher level than we have seen so far,” said director David Beasley.