After taking control of the Zaporiyia nuclear power plant in the southeast of the country in the early hours of this morning, and the stalemate in the fighting in Kiev, the Russian offensive continues to advance at full speed in the south of Ukraine. For the first time since the invasion began, the Kremlin army has entered the town of Mykolaiv, where it is now fighting with Ukrainian troops. Mykolaiv lies midway between Kherson and Odessa, and, along with Odessa, represents one of Kiev’s last enclaves on the Black Sea coast after the fall of Kherson. If Russia succeeds in seizing control of both territories, the arrival of supplies, support and reinforcements from the international community by sea would be fatally disrupted.
Meanwhile, the first official statements on the attack on the Zaporiyia nuclear facilities – located in the city of the same name – the most important nuclear power plant in Europe, have not been long in coming. The Ukrainian Prosecutor’s Office has warned that the investigation into the attack will consider the offensive as a “terrorist attack”, and warns that “the attack by the enemy has caused a fire and the threat of a nuclear explosion would have resulted in a global environmental catastrophe“; therefore it will be dealt with as a possibility of “ecocide”.
Meanwhile, the Nuclear Safety Council (CSN) claims to be monitoring the situation in coordination with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to prevent the leakage of radioactive material; and, at the same time, some plant operators have denounced the lockdown of several workers at Zaporiyia, who have been trapped in the facilities for more than 24 hours.
The United Nations Security Council held an emergency meeting on Friday in response to the Russian attack. This follows a resolution adopted today by the UN Human Rights Council, which condemns human rights violations during the Russian offensive and calls for the creation of an independent commission of experts to investigate war crimes.
In response to Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelensky’s request for a no-fly zone in the country, NATO member states have agreed “that there should be no NATO aircraft in Ukrainian skies”, as this could lead to “an all-out war in Europe, with many parties involved”, as NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said after an emergency meeting between NATO foreign ministers, as well as representatives of Sweden and Finland.
“The days ahead are likely to be worse, with more death, suffering and destruction,” said Stoltenberg.
The Secretary General also denounced the use of weapons banned by the international community by Russian troops. “We have seen the use of cluster bombs and we have reports of the use of other weapons that would violate international law,” said Stoltenberg. This has been backed up by Human Rights Watch (HRW), which said it had received reports of cluster bombs being used in the city of Kharkov.
In this scenario, the situation of Ukrainian citizens is critical. Already during yesterday’s round of talks between the two countries in the Belarusian city of Brest – close to the Ukrainian border – Russian and Ukrainian leaders agreed to the establishment of a humanitarian corridor to evacuate civilians. However, worsening conditions have prompted Ukraine to ask the Red Cross for help in creating more evacuation routes.
“The Ukrainian state requests the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) to urgently initiate the necessary actions to organise humanitarian corridors and is ready, in turn, to do everything necessary to evacuate the civilian population and deliver humanitarian supplies,” the Ukrainian authorities said in a statement, hoping to receive aid in the nine corridors located in key cities such as Kiev, Zaporiyia, Mykolaiv, Kharkiv, Lugansk and Donetsk.
So far the UN has counted more than 1,200,000 displaced Ukrainians and around 2,000 dead, although they claim that the real figures are much higher, increasing with each passing hour.
Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin told German Chancellor Olaf Scholz during a phone call on Friday that Kiev and Moscow are working on a new stage of negotiations ahead of the weekend. “The third stage could take place tomorrow or the day after; we are in constant contact,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Mikhail Podoliak told a press conference.
However, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that “the negotiations that have taken place were a good opportunity to convey to the Ukrainian side our vision of this problem. From now on, everything will depend on the reaction of the Ukrainian side”.
In addition to the already countless sanctions that the international community has imposed on Vladimir Putin’s regime, the European Union may be considering a new round of sanctions, according to the European Commission. Several senior EU officials are trying to find ways to ban Moscow’s access to IMF funding as punishment for the offensive in Ukraine. However, due to the complexity of such a measure, EU officials are also considering suspending Russia’s voting rights in the organisation, as well as blocking special IMF currencies and other special rights.
In the scenario, the Russian president has advised his neighbours “not to aggravate the situation or impose limitations”. “There are no bad intentions towards our neighbours. So I would advise them not to escalate the situation, not to introduce any additional sanctions,” Putin warned during his remarks to Rossiya 24. “We see no need to aggravate or worsen our relations. All our actions always arise exclusively in response to hostile actions, actions against the Russian Federation.”