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Latest in Ukraine: IAEA Chief Says Deal to Protect Nuclear Plant Could Be 'Close'


International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi speaks to Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as they visit Dnipro Hydroelectric Power Plant, March 27, 2023.

New developments:

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Tuesday traveled to the Sumy region in the northeast, visiting cities that have seen intense fighting since Russia invaded the country a year ago.

“The region is next to the enemy. The threat is constant. The shelling of our border is constant. But life, our people are obviously stronger than any fears,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address.

Zelenskyy spoke with city officials and residents in Okhtyrka and Trostyanets, towns that have seen fierce fighting. Trostyanets was under Russian control shortly after the invasion but freed by Ukrainian troops on March 26, 2022, The Associated Press reported.

He also traveled to an undisclosed location near the Russian border and spoke with border guards.

“I also had a special conversation with the Head of the Border Guard Service. We talked about the defense of Sumy and our other regions, about strengthening the border guards who, together with all the defense forces, are fighting on the frontline,” Zelenskyy said.

Bad weather Tuesday led Ukraine’s power grid operator, Ukrenergo, to shut down electricity in eight regions in the country.

Ukrenergo CEO Volodymyr Kudrytskyi said on national television that the network could meet consumer needs in the next few months provided power plants damaged in Russian attacks were repaired in good time, Reuters reported.

"The Ukrainian energy system is part of the European system. That means we have the opportunity to import power if we don't have enough of our own," Kudrytskyi said, according to Interfax Ukraine news agency. "It is important to carry on with repairs, particularly on those energy units at thermal and hydroelectric stations that were damaged to be able to mobilize resources to the maximum and get through the winter properly."

A deal to secure the safety of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in Ukraine could be “close,” although final details have yet to be agreed upon by Russian and Ukrainian officials, Rafael Mariano Grossi, chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said Tuesday.

Grossi told reporters he met Monday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and would "most probably" head to Russia in the coming days to try to finalize an agreement to protect the nuclear plant at Zaporizhzhia. Fierce fighting for months near the facility has international officials worried about a nuclear disaster, with the potential for radiation spreading far beyond the immediate war zone.

"There is an increased level of combat, active combat" near the power plant, Grossi said. "My teams there report daily about the attacks, the sound of heavy weaponry. This is practically constant."

Grossi has long called for a protection zone to be created around the plant, which is very near the front line of the war. But no agreement has been reached.

"It is a zone of extreme volatility. So, the negotiations are, of course, affected by the ongoing military operations," Grossi said. "I would not characterize the process for the last few months as one that has not led to any progress."

Grossi said he has maintained a professional dialogue with both Russian and Ukrainian officials as he seeks a deal "to ensure ... that there is no radiological accident, major catastrophic accident, in Europe."

"I think it's close," he said of the possibility of a deal. "Obviously, obviously, I need a political commitment, political decision. And in this case, what I want to stress is that what they would be agreeing is on the protection of the plant. They are not agreeing with each other. They are agreeing with the IAEA. They are agreeing with nuclear safety and security. This is a very important element which I believe should be taken into consideration."

He said any such agreement would be limited to protection of the nuclear plant, not aimed at securing a broader cease-fire.

"What we are doing, the way we are presenting things is as a series of principles or commitments that the IAEA presents and everybody would be able to support," he said. "So, in my opinion this should make an agreement possible, not impossible, not utopian, not something for which we should be waiting for months and months on end."

Because of the fighting, he said, "I think the principle here is to avoid an accident, and the possibility of having it is increasing. This is a matter of fact."

FILE - IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi speaks at a press conference about the situation at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine in Vienna, Austria, March 4, 2022.
FILE - IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi speaks at a press conference about the situation at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine in Vienna, Austria, March 4, 2022.

New Russian attacks kill three

Ukraine’s presidential office said at least three civilians were killed and 43 others wounded in the latest Russian attacks involving drones, gliding bombs and heavy artillery. Most of the attacks were in the eastern Donetsk region, where Russian shelling hit 12 towns and villages. The southern city of Kherson was also targeted.

Russia has continued its long-range bombardment of Ukraine with Iranian-made Shahed exploding drones. But Kyiv said it shot down 14 of the 15 drones Moscow’s forces launched Monday night.

Some material in this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.