Ukraine on Wednesday urged residents living in Russian-occupied areas near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant to flee for their own safety.
"I appeal to the residents of the districts adjacent to the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant ... evacuate! Find a way to get to [Ukrainian] controlled territory," Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said on the Telegram messaging service.
In a separate post on Telegram, the exiled Ukrainian mayor of Enerhodar, the main town serving the plant, said it was under fire from Russian forces and the town had no electrical supply.
Both Moscow and Kyiv have for weeks accused each other of shelling the nuclear plant, Europe's largest, risking a nuclear disaster akin to that at Ukraine’s Chernobyl plant in 1986.
On Tuesday, Rafael Grossi, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said the continued attacks on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant are "unacceptable," and he urged that a demilitarized area be created in and around the facility. Grossi and a team of IAEA inspectors visited the site last week.
"We are playing with fire, and something very, very catastrophic could take place," Grossi warned during a video briefing to the U.N. Security Council. "This is why in our report we are proposing the establishment of a nuclear safety and security protection zone limited to the perimeter and the plant itself."
But neither Moscow nor Kyiv immediately committed to the Grossi proposal, saying they needed to know more details.
Ukrainian regional Governor Valentyn Reznichenko said the city of Nikopol, on the opposite bank of the Dnieper River from the nuclear plant, was hit Wednesday by Russian rockets and heavy artillery.
"There are fires, blackouts and other things at the [plant] that force us to prepare the local population for the consequences of the nuclear danger," Reznichenko said. In recent days, officials have distributed iodine pills to residents to help protect them in the event of a radiation leak.
Elsewhere, heavy fighting was reported in the north, near the city of Kharkiv; in the east, in the industrial Donbas region; and in the south, in the Kherson region, where Ukraine has launched a counteroffensive to try to reclaim lands seized by the Russians in the earliest days of the war.
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday his country has not lost anything from its military operation in Ukraine and has strengthened its sovereignty.
Speaking at an economic forum, Putin said all of Russia’s actions “are directed at helping the people of the Donbas.”
“This will eventually lead to the strengthening of our country from the inside and in its foreign policy,” Putin said.
Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, and after abandoning a push toward the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, has focused its military efforts in the Donbas region, where pro-Russian fighters have battled Ukrainian forces since 2014.
Putin also criticized an agreement brokered by the United Nations and Turkey that restarted Ukrainian grain shipments amid a global food crisis, saying the exports were not going to the world’s poorest countries.
The Joint Coordination Center that is overseeing the implementation of the deal said that as of Tuesday, more than 2.2 million tons of grain and other foodstuffs had left Ukrainian ports on about 100 ships. Destinations have included Italy, Turkey, Iran, China, Romania, Djibouti, Germany and Lebanon.
Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, told Reuters that Russian comments about the deal were “unexpected” and “groundless.”
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.