(Reuters) -Staff at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear complex are “working under the barrels of Russian guns”, Ukraine’s ambassador to the U.N. nuclear watchdog said on Monday, calling for an international mission to the plant this month.
Yevhenii Tsymbaliuk said Russian forces want to cause electricity blackouts in southern Ukraine by shelling the Zaporizhzhia complex, adding that damage to the facility from Russian attacks means any radiation could not be detected.
Tsymbaliuk spoke in Vienna as international alarm over weekend artillery attacks on the Zaporizhzhia complex grew with Kyiv warning of the risk of a Chornobyl-style catastrophe and appealing for the area to be made a demilitarised zone.
The Zaporizhzhia region’s Russian-installed authority has said Ukrainian forces hit the site with a multiple rocket launcher, damaging administrative buildings and a storage area. The Russian Foreign Ministry accused Kyiv of trying to “take Europe hostage” by shelling the plant.
Reuters could not verify either side’s version of what happened.
“If something happens, so there will be huge consequences not only for Ukraine, probably all Ukraine will be contaminated, but for Europe as well,” Tsymbaliuk told reporters, adding this would be “absolutely not comparable even to Chornobyl”.
Russian attacks on the facility had hit spent nuclear fuel, and damaged three radiation monitoring sensors around the site, Tsymbaliuk said, adding: “The situation is looking like Ukrainian staff are working under the barrels of Russian guns.”
“Russian occupants aim to destroy the plant’s infrastructure, cause damage to all transmission lines – and they are used to transport electricity to the Ukrainian grid – and to cause blackouts in the south of Ukraine,” he added.
Tsymbaliuk said Kyiv would use all the diplomatic channels it can to allow an international mission to the plant.
“We really need it urgently, as soon as possible, I would say not later than the end of this month,” he added.
Russia is ready to facilitate a visit of the International Atomic Energy Agency to the Zaporizhzhia plant, the RIA Novosti news agency quoted Russia’s permanent representative to international organisations in Vienna as saying on Monday.
Ukraine is also pushing for international sanctions on Russia’s nuclear sector, Tsymbaliuk said, adding that President Volodymyr Zelenskiy had spoken to President of the European Council Charles Michel about imposing them.
(Reporting by Matthias Williams and Paul Carrel; Editing by Miranda Murray and Nick Macfie)