Russia-Ukraine war live: UN warns of ‘very dangerous’ situation at Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant

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‘Very dangerous’ situation at Russian-held Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, says IAEA chief

The head of the UN nuclear watchdog, Rafael Grossi, has described the situation at Ukraine’s Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in southeastern Ukraine as “very dangerous” and very unstable.

The nuclear facility has lost its external power supply six times since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine more than a year ago, forcing emergency diesel generators to kick in to cool its reactors.

Grossi, who heads the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said the water level in a nearby reservoir controlled by Russian forces was another potential danger. Water supplied by the reservoir is used to cool the reactors.

He told Reuters:

If the reservoir level goes down beyond a certain level, then you don’t have water to cool down the reactors, and we have seen especially in January that the levels of the water were going down significantly. They recovered somehow in the past few weeks.

He added that there had been increasing military activity in the region without giving details.

Grossi, who yesterday met with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy at the Dnipro hydroelectric power station, northeast of the Zaporizhzhia plant, said his attempt to broker a deal to protect the plant was still alive, and that he was adjusting the proposals to seek a breakthrough.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Rafael Grossi (CL), director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) following their meeting at the territory of the Dnipro Hydroelectric Power Station in the city of Dnipro. Photograph: UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SER/AFP/Getty Images

He was speaking a day before he is expected to travel to the nuclear plant, the largest in Europe.

Grossi has been pushing for a safety zone to be created at the plant to prevent a possible nuclear disaster as Moscow and Kyiv have accused each other of shelling the site of the power station. Kyiv does not want a deal that will in effect recognise or allow a Russian military presence at the plant.

Grossi added:

I am confident that it might be possible to establish some form of protection, perhaps not emphasising so much the idea of a zone, but on the protection itself: what people should do, or shouldn’t do to protect (the plant) instead of having a territorial concept.

Key events

Here’s some reaction to the IOC’s recommendation that Russian and Belarusian athletes be allowed to compete under a neutral flag in international sporting events.

Germany’s interior minister, Nancy Faeser, said the committee’s decision is “a slap in the face for all Ukrainian athletes”, posting to Twitter:

I would have liked the Russian and Belarusian athletes to remain excluded. There is no reason whatsoever for Russia to return to world sport.

Die Entscheidung vom #IOC ist ein Schlag ins Gesicht aller ukrainischen Sportlerinnen und Sportler. Ich hätte mir gewünscht, dass die russischen und belarussischen Athleten weiter ausgeschlossen bleiben. Es gibt keinerlei Grund für eine Rückkehr Russlands in den Weltsport.

— Nancy Faeser (@NancyFaeser) March 28, 2023

Wladimir Klitschko, the Ukrainian former professional boxer, accused IOC president Thomas Bach of serving “the colours and interests of Russia”.

The IOC authorizes the russian and belarusian athletes to participate in the Olympic Games under “neutral flag”.
This decision is a false flag.
Thomas Bach serves the colors and interests of russia.
This decision contaminates the Olympic spirit and is like this war: a nonsense pic.twitter.com/KoU9JYl4wV

— Klitschko (@Klitschko) March 28, 2023

Poland’s deputy foreign minister, Piotr Wawrzyk, said it was “a day of shame for the IOC”, posting to Twitter:

What positive things has Russia done for their athletes to now take part in competitions!! After Bucha, Irpin, Hostomel!! After the daily bombings of civilian sites!!

Co takiego wydarzyło się pozytywnego ze strony Rosji, że ich sportowcy mieliby uczestniczyć w zawodach‼️ Po Buczy, Irpieniu, Hostomelu‼️ Po codziennych bombardowaniach obiektów cywilnych‼️ To dzień hańby MKOL‼️

— Piotr Wawrzyk (@Piotr_Wawrzyk) March 28, 2023

Mark Brown

Mark Brown

A 200-year-old bronze statue commemorating Nelson’s victory at the Battle of Trafalgar is to be surrounded by thousands of sandbags to echo the plight of monuments in Ukraine.

The plan for Liverpool’s Nelson’s Monument is one of 24 cultural commissions announced on Tuesday as part of a festival that aims to transform the city in the run-up to its staging of the Eurovision song contest.

Running from 1-14 May, it will, say the organisers, be “the pre-party to end all pre-parties” as fans from across the world descend on the city.

Claire McColgan, the director of Culture Liverpool, said the planned EuroFestival would be a “scouse/Ukrainian mashup of brilliance”.

She added:

No other Eurovision host city has ever curated a creative programme of such scale and scope. This is the spirit of Eurovision spilling on to our streets. Free for all. Accessible to all. Uniting us all.

Read the full story here:

Russian and Belarusian athletes may compete as neutrals, says IOC

The International Olympic Committee has recommended that Russian and Belarusian athletes are allowed to compete in international sporting events under a neutral flag.

The IOC issued a set of recommendations, which stated that those “with a Russian or a Belarusian passport must compete only as Individual Neutral Athletes”, meaning individuals can compete without national symbols, such as a flag.

A decision regarding next year’s Olympics in Paris and the Milan-Cortina Winter Olympics in 2026 would be taken “at the appropriate time”, it said.

It added that “athletes who are contracted to the Russian or Belarusian military or national security agencies” could also not be considered.

➡️ IOC issues recommendations for International Federations and international sports event organisers on the participation of athletes with a Russian or Belarusian passport in int. competitions

➡️ No decision on Paris 2024 or Milano Cortina 2026https://t.co/Qj2TkHs4yc

— Christian Klaue (@ChKlaue) March 28, 2023

IOC president Thomas Bach, speaking at a news conference today, said:

What is maybe most important, what has changed, is that participation of athletes with Russian and Belarusian passports in competitions and in international competitions, works.

The US will not provide Russia with data on its nuclear forces, the White House has said, following Vladimir Putin’s decision to suspend Moscow’s participation in the New Start nuclear arms treaty.

The 2010 agreement, which limited the number of strategic nuclear warheads each side can deploy, was the last remaining nuclear arms treaty between the US and Russia. Putin announced its suspension in February, accusing Washington of trying to inflict a “strategic defeat” on Moscow in Ukraine.

A spokesperson for the US national security council said today:

Under international law, the United States has the right to respond to Russia’s breaches of the New Start Treaty by taking proportionate and reversable countermeasures in order to induce Russia to return to compliance with its obligations.

They added:

That means that because Russia’s claimed suspension of the New Start Treaty is legally invalid, the US is legally permitted to withhold our biannual data update in response to Russia’s breaches.

The US has previously said Moscow’s decision to suspend its participation in the treaty showed it was not a responsible nuclear partner. Russia and the US together hold 90% of the world’s nuclear warheads.

‘Very dangerous’ situation at Russian-held Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, says IAEA chief

The head of the UN nuclear watchdog, Rafael Grossi, has described the situation at Ukraine’s Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in southeastern Ukraine as “very dangerous” and very unstable.

The nuclear facility has lost its external power supply six times since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine more than a year ago, forcing emergency diesel generators to kick in to cool its reactors.

Grossi, who heads the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said the water level in a nearby reservoir controlled by Russian forces was another potential danger. Water supplied by the reservoir is used to cool the reactors.

He told Reuters:

If the reservoir level goes down beyond a certain level, then you don’t have water to cool down the reactors, and we have seen especially in January that the levels of the water were going down significantly. They recovered somehow in the past few weeks.

He added that there had been increasing military activity in the region without giving details.

Grossi, who yesterday met with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy at the Dnipro hydroelectric power station, northeast of the Zaporizhzhia plant, said his attempt to broker a deal to protect the plant was still alive, and that he was adjusting the proposals to seek a breakthrough.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Rafael Grossi (CL), director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) following their meeting at the territory of the Dnipro Hydroelectric Power Station in the city of Dnipro.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Rafael Grossi (CL), director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) following their meeting at the territory of the Dnipro Hydroelectric Power Station in the city of Dnipro. Photograph: UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SER/AFP/Getty Images

He was speaking a day before he is expected to travel to the nuclear plant, the largest in Europe.

Grossi has been pushing for a safety zone to be created at the plant to prevent a possible nuclear disaster as Moscow and Kyiv have accused each other of shelling the site of the power station. Kyiv does not want a deal that will in effect recognise or allow a Russian military presence at the plant.

Grossi added:

I am confident that it might be possible to establish some form of protection, perhaps not emphasising so much the idea of a zone, but on the protection itself: what people should do, or shouldn’t do to protect (the plant) instead of having a territorial concept.

Summary of the day so far

It’s 6pm in Kyiv. Here’s where we stand:

  • Ukraine’s frontline city of Avdiivka “is being wiped off the face of the Earth” amid intensifying Russian shelling, according to its top local official. Russian forces have been making recent gradual gains on the flanks of Avdiivka, and the Ukrainian military said last week that the city could become a “second Bakhmut”. Starting on Sunday, the city’s utilities will begin to be shut off as “more and more of the town is shelled and destroyed daily,” said Vitaliy Barabash, the city’s military administration head.

  • Ukraine is aiming to exhaust and inflict heavy losses on Russian forces trying to capture the small eastern city of Bakhmut, the commander of Ukrainian ground forces has said. In a video showing him addressing soldiers in what appeared to be a large industrial warehouse, Col Gen Oleksandr Syrskyi said Russia was continuing to focus on the Bakhmut area after months of battle.

  • Russia’s 10th tank regiment has borne the brunt of the assault of Avdiivka and has likely lost a “large portion of its tanks” while attempting to surround the town from the south, the UK’s Ministry of Defence said in its latest intelligence update. It said the regiment belonged to the 3rd Army Corps, the first major new formation Russia stood up to support its invasion since August 2022 and despite a period of training in Belarus, the formation “appears to display limited combat effectiveness”.

  • Higher quality Wagner units have likely been committed to fighting around Avdiivka “potentially to reinforce recent limited tactical successes in the area”, according to the Institute for Study of War (ISW). The ISW said the deployments appear intended to help support weaker units from the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and that if confirmed, their involvement may help “explain the limited tactical gains made in the area over the past week”.

  • Russian forces launched 24 airstrikes, 12 missile strikes and carried out 55 attacks from rocket salvo systems in the last 24 hours, according the latest update from the general staff of the armed forces of Ukraine. A missile strike in the city of Sloviansk damaged high-rise buildings and private houses, causing deaths and injuries among civilians. A separate airstrike in the city of Bersyslav also caused damaged to civilian infrastructure.

  • Volodymyr Zelenskiy has visited Ukraine’s northern Sumy region during his tour of areas of the country that have borne the brunt of Russia’s invasion. Zelenskiy met officials and local residents in the city of Okhtyrka, which had fierce battles last year but was never occupied, and Trostianets, which was occupied by Russian forces for a month and liberated in March 2022. During the past seven days, the Ukrainian leader has visited the Kherson and Kharkiv regions, parts of which were retaken last year from Russia, to the frontline area near Bakhmut in the eastern Donetsk region, and to Zaporizhzhia in the south.

  • Germany’s much-awaited shipment of 18 Leopard 2 battle tanks has arrived in Ukraine, the German defence ministry has confirmed. Berlin had promised 14 vehicles but increased that to 18 as part of a deal under which several EU states would contribute to a shipment of two Leopard 2 battalions and 31 American-made M1A2 Abrams tanks from the US.

  • The first Brotosj Challenger 2 main battle tanks have arrived in Ukraine and will soon begin combat missions, the country’s defence minister Oleksii Reznikov has said. The UK said in January it would send 14 of the tanks to Ukraine. Reznikov wrote on Twitter that the tanks had “recently arrived in our country” and posted a video that showed him sitting in one of a long line of tanks in an open field, all of them flying Ukraine’s yellow and blue flag.

  • Belarus’s foreign ministry has justified its decision to allow Russia to station nuclear weapons on Belarusian territory, saying Minsk was acting to protect itself after years of pressure from the US and its allies aimed at changing its political and geopolitical direction. Minsk had been forced to house Russian nuclear weapons on its territory by the aggressive actions of Nato countries that were threatening Belarus’s own security, it said, according to Russian news agency Tass.

  • Belarus will certainly face further EU sanctions resulting from Vladimir Putin’s announcement that Moscow has made a deal to station tactical nuclear weapons on Belarusian territory, Poland’s prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, has said. Poland was considering further limitations on cross-border traffic, Morawiecki added.

  • A Russian man who was investigated by police after his 12-year-old daughter drew a picture depicting Russian bombing a family in Ukraine has been sentenced to two years in a penal colony, according to a rights group. Alexei Moskalyov, a single parent from the town of Yefremov, 150 miles south of Moscow, has been separated from his daughter, Maria, since he was placed under house arrest and she was taken into a state-run shelter last month. Court officials said on Tuesday that the 54-year-old fled house arrest overnight and that his whereabouts were unknown.

Good afternoon from London. It’s Léonie Chao-Fong here with all the latest developments from the Russia-Ukraine war. Feel free to get in touch on Twitter or via email.

Earlier we reported that a Russian man who was investigated by police after his 12-year-old daughter drew a picture depicting Russian bombing a family in Ukraine had reportedly been sentenced to two years in prison.

It appears that the whereabouts of the convicted man, Alexei Moskalyov, is unclear. Court officials have said the 54-year-old fled house arrest overnight, and was not present for the outcome of his trial. He had been wearing a bracelet that tracked his movements but apparently had taken it off.

Moskalyov’s lawyer, Vladimir Biliyenko, told reporters after the hearing today that he learned of his client’s disappearance at the court hearing. He said he had not seen his client since Monday and did not know whether Moskalyov had fled.

He told Reuters:

At the moment, to be honest, I’m in a state of shock.

He said the defence would appeal against the court’s verdict and that Moskalyov’s daughter, Maria, would remain in a state-run shelter for the time being.

Volodymyr Zelenskiy visits Ukrainian border guards near the border with Russia in the Sumy region.
Volodymyr Zelenskiy visits Ukrainian border guards near the border with Russia in the Sumy region. Photograph: Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Reuters

While the panel discussion continues in Washington DC, where France’s foreign minister, Catherine Colonna , and the Czech Republic’s foreign minister, Jan Lipavský, have also spoken, Ukraine president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who was due to appear, has posted to Telegram. He has said he has visited Sumy, posting:

Sumy region. Our border. [I] observed the service of the border guards holding the frontiers of the state. Ukrainian border guards work in close cooperation with other components of the defence forces of Ukraine to protect the state border from the enemy.

Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister, has been addressing a summit on democracy in Washington DC, and has been outlining again Ukraine’s peace plan. The key points he has made so far include saying:

Although Russia seeks to destroy Ukraine, its aggression is not only about Ukraine. Russia also aims to destroy the world order based on international law and the UN Charter. Our sons and daughters have not only been fighting for the future, but also defending our common democratic values at the cost of their lives. In this fight, we are defending the entire democratic world.

No other nation wants peace more than Ukraine. But peace at any cost is an illusion. I would like to emphasise that the Ukrainian people will accept peace only if it guarantees the cessation of Russian aggression in full the complete withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukrainian territory and the restoration of our state’s territorial integrity within internationally recognised borders.

He went on to say later: “I want to be clear, Russia has to withdraw from every square metre of Ukrainian territory. There should be no misinterpretation of what the word withdrawal implies.”

Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, responded by saying that calls for a ceasefire were appealing – “who wouldn’t want the guns to be silent” – but risked freezing the conflict and allowing Russia to consolidate its territorial gains at Ukraine’s expense.

In his opening address in Washington DC, the US secretary of state Antony Blinken has restated the US position on potential future peace in Ukraine. He said:

The US is committed to supporting meaningful diplomatic efforts that can achieve this. We all know that for peace to be just, it must uphold the principles at the heart of the UN charter: sovereignty, territorial integrity, independence and for peace to be durable. It must ensure that Russia can’t simply rest and refit its troops, and then relaunch the war at a time more advantageous to it.

Ukraine under president Zelenskiy has put forward a proposal that would force such a peace. It would end the war and save countless lives. It would restore Ukraine’s territory, and respect its democracy, would reconstruct the country and the economy. It would ensure that radiation and nuclear safety. It would uphold the UN Charter and the will of the international community. And it would come to the aid of billions around the world that have been affected by Russia’s aggression.

There’s been a change of plan at the summit, and Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba has appeared, carrying Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s apologies, saying that you will have seen in the news that Ukraine’s president is visiting frontline regions in Ukraine.

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