A team of United Nations nuclear safety experts headed Wednesday toward Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, even as Russia and Ukraine traded accusations that the other was endangering the facility with new attacks.
The inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency left the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, with IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi saying his team had received guarantees from Ukraine and Russia that they will be able to carry out their work over the coming days.
Kyiv and Moscow accused each other of shelling the area near the power plant, the largest nuclear facility in Europe and a key source of energy for Ukraine. With the nuclear plant in the midst of a war zone, world leaders have expressed fears it could be damaged and result in a radiation disaster like that at Ukraine's Chernobyl plant in 1986.
The U.N. convoy of vehicles reached Zaporizhzhia city Wednesday afternoon, still about 120 kilometers by road from the plant itself.
"It's a mission that seeks to prevent a nuclear accident," Grossi said.
He said the first tour through the facility would take a few days, after which "we will have a pretty good idea of what's going on."
Grossi said he hopes the IAEA will be able to establish a "continued presence" at the plant to safeguard it against an accident.
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell again called for Russia to fully demilitarize the area around the plant.
"They are playing games. They are gambling with the nuclear security," Borrell said. "We cannot play war games in the neighborhood of a site like this."
While the inspectors headed to Zaporizhzhia, Russia-backed local authorities accused Ukrainian forces of repeatedly shelling the plant grounds and the city of Enerhodar where plant is situated. They said Ukraine drones hit the plant's administrative building and training center.
But Yevhen Yevtushenko, head of the administration in the Ukrainian-held city of Nikopol, across the Dnieper River from the plant, claimed Russia launched the attacks to make Ukraine look like the culprit.
In other battlefield developments, Ukrainian officials contended Russian soldiers were searching homes in the southern city of Kherson for anti-Russian partisans. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's office said four people were killed and two wounded in rocket attacks in the past day in the eastern Donetsk region.
Russia's Gazprom halted natural gas supplies though a key pipeline to Europe on Wednesday in a move it had announced in advance in order to carry out maintenance.
Gazprom said the Nord Stream pipeline would be shut off until Saturday.
The company has carried out similar shutdowns in recent months, with some European governments expressing concern that Russia would use energy supplies to retaliate for European support of Ukraine during Moscow's six-month invasion.
Some information for this story came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.