Russian Defense Ministry: Ukraine tried to capture Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant

MOSCOW (Reuters): Ukrainian forces had attempted to seize the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in southern Ukraine, Russia’s defense ministry and a local Moscow-backed local official said on Thursday.

In a statement, the ministry said that up to 60 Ukrainian troops had crossed the Dnipro river, which divides territory held by the two sides, in boats at 6:00 a.m. local time (0300 GMT). It called the operation a “provocation” aimed at disrupting a planned visit by International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors to the nuclear plant.

The ministry said that “measures had been taken” to destroy the opposing troops, including use of military aviation.

The ministry also accused Ukraine of shelling both the meeting point of the IAEA delegation, and the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant itself.

Separately, a local Russian-installed official Vladimir Rogov told state broadcaster RT that Ukrainian forces launched an attack out of “desperation” over the IAEA’s inspectors’ visit to the plant later on Thursday. He said Ukrainian assault troops were now pinned down by Russian air force.

Reuters could not immediately verify the reports.

The mission by the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog aims to assess risks from the ongoing hostilities in the area.

The plant was captured by Russian forces in March. It remains near the front lines, and has come under repeated shelling in recent weeks, raising fears of a nuclear disaster. Both Ukraine and Russia have accused each other of shelling the facility.