The nuclear power plant on the front line of the war in Ukraine has lost external power again, fuelling fears of a radiation disaster as fighting continues in the area.
The Zaporizhzhia plant, Europe’s largest, had its last remaining main external power line cut off, although a reserve line continued supplying electricity to the grid, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said on Saturday.
Only one of the station’s six reactors remained in operation, the agency said in a statement.
The plant, seized by Russian troops shortly after their February 24 invasion, has become a focal point of the conflict, with each side blaming the other for nearby shelling.
Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of storing heavy weapons at the site to discourage Ukraine from firing on it. Russia, which denies the presence of any such weapons there, has resisted international calls to relocate troops and demilitarise the area.
Russia’s defence ministry on Saturday accused Ukrainian forces of mounting a failed attempt to capture the plant. Turkey has offered to facilitate the situation.
Constant artillery fire prompted fears of a radiation disaster that the International Red Cross has said would cause a major humanitarian catastrophe.
Shelling continued nearby in Kherson on Sunday as Ukrainian forces attempt to retake the city occupied by Russian troops for months. Ukraine forces destroyed a recreation facility where Russian soldiers were staying, local residents said.
Al Jazeera’s Gabriel Elizondo, reporting from the capital Kyiv, said Kherson is a critical city in the battle for Ukraine, highlighting that a major counteroffensive was launched last week.
“The Ukrainians feel now they have to retake Kherson and what they are trying to do is basically trap the tens of thousands of Russian soldiers there,” he said.
“On this counteroffensive, they are not storming directly into the city. They are trying to encircle the Russians slowly and methodically and cut off supply lines, and as one military analyst said, ‘pinch the Russians off’.”
Taras Berezovets, a special forces officer from the Ukraine military, said the counterattack to retake the city will likely take months as equipment and logistics are readied.
“I would characterise our offensive as smooth but effective. Our armed forces are thinking first about the lives of our servicemen and the lives of our civilians. We’re not going to go any further if there is a serious risk,” Berezovets told Al Jazeera.
“Ukrainian forces are not only going to liberate the Kherson region but all occupied territories. It doesn’t matter how long it will take. The Russian soldiers are demoralised, they don’t know what they’re doing on Ukrainian soil.”
The counteroffensive in southern Ukraine aims to degrade Russian forces and logistics, rather than immediately recapturing swathes of territory, Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych told the Wall Street Journal.
The goal is the “systemic grinding of Putin’s army and that Ukrainian troops are slowly and systematically uncovering and destroying Russia’s operational logistical supply system with artillery and precision weapon strikes”, he said
According to the daily update by the Ukrainian military, more than 24 air strikes by the Russian army were registered within 24 hours. Both military and civilian sites were hit, the report said, without giving further details.
“Due to the lack of high-precision weapons, the enemy began to use outdated S-300 anti-aircraft guided missiles more often,” it said, adding more than 500 such missiles have been fired at targets in Ukraine during the course of the war.
People living alongside the Dnieper River near the besieged nuclear plant have been spending nights in tents or in cars, scared of the intensive shelling near their homes.
Nikopol, about 10km (six miles) downstream from the Zaporizhzhia plant, has been under attack for nearly two months.
Intensified artillery attacks that were usually at night are now taking place during the day, said Maiia Chernysh, 59, a mathematics professor and resident of Nikopol while assembling a tent together with her husband.
As many others do, the couple goes back to Nikopol every morning to check on their house. They leave the city to spend the night in a safer area in the Dnipropetrovsk region, not far from their hometown.
“We left just when Nikopol became a battlefield,” said Olena Kovalova, 32. “We are afraid for our lives.”
A standoff over Russian gas and oil exports ramped up last week as Moscow vowed to keep its main gas pipeline to Germany closed and G7 countries announced a planned price cap on Russian oil exports.
The energy fight is fallout from President Vladimir Putin’s six-month invasion of Ukraine, underscoring the deep rift between Moscow and Western nations as Europe steels itself for the cold months ahead.
“Russia is preparing a decisive energy blow on all Europeans for this winter,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly address on Saturday, citing the Nord Stream 1 pipeline’s continued closure.
Zelenskyy has blamed Russian shelling for an August 25 cutoff, the first time Zaporizhzhia was severed from the national grid, which narrowly avoided a radiation leak. That shutdown prompted power cuts across Ukraine, although emergency generators kicked in for vital cooling processes.
Moscow has cited Western sanctions and technical issues for energy disruptions, while European countries have accused Russia of weaponising supplies as part of its military invasion.
Announcing it would not make a planned restart of gas shipments through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, one of Russia’s main supply lines to Europe, state-controlled energy giant Gazprom blamed a technical fault.
Gazprom said on Saturday that Germany’s Siemens Energy was ready to help repair broken equipment but that there was nowhere available to carry out the work. Siemens said it has not been commissioned to carry out maintenance work for the pipeline but it is available.
‘War of aggression’
The indefinite delay in restarting Nord Stream 1, which runs under the Baltic Sea to supply Germany and others, deepens Europe’s problems securing fuel for winter as energy prices lead a surge in living costs.
Finance ministers from the Group of Seven wealthy democracies – Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States – said on Friday the cap on the price of Russian oil aimed to reduce “Russia’s ability to fund its war of aggression whilst limiting the impact of Russia’s war on global energy prices.”
The Kremlin said it would stop selling oil to any countries that implemented the cap.
Russia calls its invasion of its neighbour “a special military operation“. Kyiv and the West say it is an unprovoked aggressive war against a former part of the Soviet Union.
The United States and other countries have pledged military aid for Kyiv to fight an invasion that has killed thousands of people and displaced millions.