Ukrainian officials on Friday said a fire broke out at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant after facing artillery fire from invading Russian forces.
Ukraine's foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, confirmed the nuclear plant, the largest in Europe, had caught fire as he said the "Russian army is firing from all sides" while warning of severe consequences if it were to explode.
"If it blows up it will be 10 times larger than Chernobyl! Russians must IMMEDIATELY cease the fire, allow firefighters, establish a security zone!" Kuleba wrote on Twitter.
The United Nation's nuclear watchdog group the International Atomic Energy Agency wrote on Twitter that it has put its Incident and Emergency Center in "full 24/7 response mode due to [the] serious situation" at the plant.
Ukraine's national regulator also told IAEA that there had been "no change in reported radiation levels" as of early Friday morning and that the fire had not affected "essential" equipment.
U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm wrote on Twitter that the department has activated its Nuclear Incident Response Team while confirming that it has not seen elevated radiation readings near the facility.
"The plant's reactors are protected by robust containment structures and reactors are being safely shut down," said Granholm.
Both U.S. President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said they had spoken with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in response to the incident, as the leaders called on Russia to stop fighting near the plant.
Zelensky in a video on Friday accused Russia of "nuclear terrorism" while declaring that "Europe must wake up now" and address the attack.
"We warn everyone that not a single nation ever shelled nuclear power stations," he said. "For the first time in the history of humankind, the terrorist state commits nuclear terrorism."
"Russian propagandists threatened to cover the world with nuclear ashes. Now it's not a threat. It's a reality. We don't know how the fire at the station will end, when an explosion will happen, god willing, it won't happen," he said.
A power plant employee said in a Telegram message that as of 2:30 a.m., firefighters had not been able to reach the scene of the blaze, The Guardian reported.
Dmytro Orlov, mayor of the nearby city of Energodar, also urged for Russians to halt their fire.
"I demand, stop! Immediately stop shelling the Zaporizhzhia nuclar power plant point blank," he said.
CNN reported a crowd of plant workers and local civilians blocked roads into the town, making barricades out of trucks and tires, preventing Russian forces from entering. Videos Thursday appeared to show smoke rising from the barricades.
"The sirens are not stopping," a woman can be heard saying in one video. "The column of Russian tanks are trying to fight through the checkpoint, can you hear the fight, the explosions?"
Orlov said Russian troops hit residential buildings and schools with shells, and cut power and water in some areas.
Earlier in the day, Rafael Grossi, director-general of the IAEA, said he and members of the agency were "gravely concerned" by the fighting near the power plant.
"I want to emphasize there is nothing normal about the circumstances under which the professionals at Ukraine's four nuclear power plants are managing to keep the reactors that produce half of Ukraine's electricity working," Grossi said.
On Thursday, Ukraine and Russia agreed to establish humanitarian corridors to allow civilians to flee during a second round of peace talks along Ukraine's border with Belarus.
Mikhail Pofolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and member of the Ukrainian delegation to the talks, said the two sides have not come to an agreement on ending the Russian invasion, which began Feb. 24.
"The second round of negotiations is over. Unfortunately, the results Ukraine needs are not yet achieved," Pofolyak tweeted.
Ahead of the talks, he laid out three issues on the agenda, including an immediate cease-fire, an end to the war and the humanitarian corridors.
The first talks were held on Monday, but ended quickly without any resolution. Zelensky had said on Wednesday that more talks are a "waste of time" unless Russian forces stop fighting in Ukraine.
"A solution will certainly be found, I have no doubt about it," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Thursday, according to the Russian state-run TASS news agency. "The conditions that we view as a minimum are no secret."
Lavrov added, however, that Russian troops will continue fighting through the peace talks, saying that Moscow can't let Ukraine "keep infrastructure facilities that threaten Russia."
Lavrov also called the numerous sanctions imposed on Russia for its invasion "some kind of a tax on independence" -- and said that Moscow is not escalating attacks in Ukraine "for the sake of escalation."
"It's clear to everyone that World War III can only be a nuclear one," he added. "However, I would like to point out that thoughts of a nuclear war are circling in the heads of Western politicians but not in the heads of Russians."
More than a million Ukrainian refugees have fled their homeland since Russia launched its invasion, the United Nations said, which is believed to be the quickest mass exodus in history.
The Ukrainians who have fled account for a little more than 2% of the country's population.
Filippo Grandi, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, reported the figure and called for a cease-fire so those affected by the conflict can receive aid.
"In just seven days we have witnessed the exodus of 1 million refugees from Ukraine to neighboring countries," Grandi said in a tweet.
"For many millions more, inside Ukraine, it's time for guns to fall silent so that life-saving humanitarian assistance can be provided."
Grandi said he will visit Romania, Moldova and Poland over the next few days to personally assess the Ukrainian refugee situations there and assess how their governments are handling the influx of people.
After several days of fighting, it appears that Russian troops have gained control of Kherson, the port city's mayor said. Kherson, located in far southern Ukraine, is the largest Ukrainian city to have been seized by Russian forces so far.
"The occupiers are moving through the streets in heavy machinery," a mayoral spokesperson told NPR, adding that Kherson's mayor has spoken with Russian forces and asked them not to target civilians.
The spokesperson also said that "several hundred" people have been killed during the siege. Kherson is a strategic port city on the Dnieper River near the Black Sea.
Zelensky said on Thursday that his country's defenses are continuing to hold off Russian attacks in the capital of Kyiv. A long Russian military convoy of vehicles has been pushing toward Kyiv for days this week.
Fighting has intensified in Enerhodar, a small town on the banks of the Dnieper River, just northwest of Melitopol.
The Washington Post reported Thursday that a large explosion went off in Kyiv and lit up the night sky. The explosion appeared to occur in a location far from the downtown area.
The Post also reported that Russian forces remain stalled away from Kyiv due to stiff Ukrainian resistance.
"We have nothing to lose but our own freedom," Zelensky said, according to The Guardian.
Zelensky added that Ukraine is receiving daily arms shipments from international allies -- and that he's recently spoken to leaders Moon Jae-in of South Korea, Justin Trudeau of Canada and Qasym-Jomart Toqayev of Kazakhstan.
Late on Wednesday, the International Criminal Court called for Russia and Ukraine to obey international war rules after announcing it's opened an investigation into the fighting in Ukraine.
"With an active investigation now underway, I repeat my call to all those engaged in hostilities in Ukraine to adhere strictly to the applicable rules of international humanitarian law," ICC prosecutor Karim Khan said in a statement. "No individual in the Ukraine situation has a license to commit crimes within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court."
Copyright © UPI, 2022. All Rights Reserved.