Erdogan warns of 'Chernobyl' risk amid fighting at Ukraine nuclear plant

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (C) shakes hands with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday, where Erdogan warned people about the potential for “another Chernobyl.” Photo by Turkish President Press Office/UPI | License Photo

Aug. 18 (UPI) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned people on Thursday about “another Chernobyl,” referencing Russian occupation of Ukraine‘s Zaporizhzhia power plant, which has seen fighting amid Russia’s months-long invasion of its neighbor.

Russia also allegedly told workers at the nuclear plant not to report for work on Friday, NBC News reported, citing exclusive military intelligence sources. That fueled speculation over some kind of planned operation.

“We do not rule out the possibility of massive Russian provocations on the territory of the ZNPP tomorrow. This is confirmed by their propaganda, information from our sources, and the behavior of the Russians at the station,” Ukrainian Defense Ministry spokesman Andriy Yusov told NBC.

Russia threatened to shut the plant down on Thursday over the risk of a man-made disaster caused by continued military shelling.

Erdogan’s comments came while attending a meeting Thursday with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and UN chief Antonio Guterres. Russia renewed its military attacks in Kharkiv in northern Ukraine ahead of the talks.

Fighting near the Zaporizhzhia plant, which Russia captured at the start of its invasion, has been the subject of international concern. Ukraine and Russia have blamed each other for putting the plant at risk.

“In the course of its war on Ukraine, Russia has turned to nuclear terrorism. Russians shelled and occupied Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhia. Now they use it as a military base, stuff it with military hardware, and threaten the world,” the Ukrainian government said on Twitter Thursday.

Russian forces have been fighting in Ukrainian-controlled Kharkiv, which is the country’s second-largest city, since the start of the war in February. Moscow, however, has seen only limited success there.

In the new round of shelling in the city Thursday, Ukrainian officials said that at least one person was killed and more than a dozen were injured.

The new attacks in Kharkiv follow an assault by Russian forces on Wednesday that killed at least seven, Ukrainian officials reported.

The attacks have prompted Zelensky to say that Ukraine’s forces “will take revenge” for the shelling and loss of life, according to The Guardian.

The trilateral meeting in Lviv between Zelensky, Guterres and Edogan was meant to address more Ukrainian grain exports — which finally resumed this month — as well as the fighting near the vulnerable power plant and finding a diplomatic solution to end the bloodshed, which is nearing the start of its seventh month.

Elsewhere, Ukraine’s operational command said Thursday that it killed 29 Russian “occupiers” during counterattacks in southern Ukraine. It also destroyed artillery, armored vehicles and a military supply depot, command officials said.

Ukrainian commanders said troops turned back Russian forces along the eastern Donetsk front, leaving much of the fighting there at a stalemate.

“[Russia] led an offensive in the Mykolaivka-Vyimka direction, was unsuccessful, withdrew,” Ukraine’s General Staff said of the Russian advance, according to CNN.

Russia is also continuing intense shelling in the eastern town of Bakhmut, but Ukraine officials say it has not captured any new territory.

Moscow, meanwhile, continued to hold a defensive position around Russian-controlled Kherson to keep territorial gains and repel an anticipated Ukrainian offensive.

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