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Russians Take Territory in Southern Ukraine, Surround Nuclear Power Plant

Leo Timm covers China-related news, culture, and history. Follow him on Twitter at @kunlunpeaks
Published: February 28, 2022
Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station
Reactors 4-6 of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station in Ukraine. (Maxim Gavrilyuk/Wikimedia Commons)

Update March 2: Recent developments suggest that Russian forces have surrounded, but not established control over the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station and the satellite town of Enerhodar.

As the Ukrainian regular army and militias continue to put up spirited resistance, and the Kremlin bears the brunt of international condemnation and sanctions, Russian troops have taken territory on all four of their major fronts in the eastern European country of 44 million. 

The Russian army has seen the quickest gains in the so-called “southern direction,” where forces there have taken the cities of Melitopol and Kherson, and are fighting for control of Mykolaiv, an important shipbuilding center on the Black Sea. 

On Feb. 28, the Russians reportedly took over their second nuclear power station since attacking Ukraine on Feb. 24. According to Russian authorities, the Zaporizhzhia nuclear reactor, which was previously threatened by artillery fire on Feb. 26, is safe and the plant staff are continuing to operate. 

This was contradicted by Ukrainian reports starting March 1, which suggest that the nuclear plant, which is the largest in Europe, and the satellite town of Enerhodar have yet to conclusively fall to the enemy.

On March 2, the mayor of Enerhodar reported that the Russian troops were shelling the nuclear power plant, and urged them to hold fire.

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Kernkraftwerk_Zaporizhzhia
A view of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station and its six reactors on the Dnieper River in southern Ukraine. (Image: Ralf1969/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0)

Earlier, on the first day of invasion, Russian tanks and infantry were filmed occupying the area around Chernobyl, the site of a nuclear power plant famous for suffering a massive meltdown in 1986. 

Fighting around the doomed plant reportedly caused minor damage to a waste storage tank, and radioactivity in the area rose, though it’s not clear what caused the modest increase. The Chernobyl plant is not in operation. 

Russian forces that occupied Chernobyl marched into Ukraine through Belarus, which is a staunch ally of the Kremlin. While not a strategically useful target by itself, Chernobyl is on a main route to Kiev, which has been the site of heavy fighting between the Russian and Ukrainian forces. 

Before the invasion, Ukraine was operating four nuclear plants with a total of 15 reactors. The power stations provide around half of the country’s electricity. 

The Zaporizhzhya nuclear plant has six reactors, of which units 1 through 4 remained operational as of Feb. 25.