Russia Says Its Forces In Ukraine Have Captured Europe’s Largest Nuclear Power Plant
Ukrainian forces continue to fight back as Russian forces attempt to press the advance on multiple fronts while bombarding major cities.
The Kremlin continues to press on with its invasion of Ukraine, which has become increasingly defined by missile, air, and artillery strikes on major cities, including the capital Kyiv. Scenes of devastation from those attacks, as well as accompanying fighting between Ukrainian and Russian forces in and around those population centers, are continuing to emerge. Before jumping into the latest news below, you can find out more about how the seventh day of this conflict has proceeded so far in our preceding rolling coverage here.
UPDATED: 17:10 PM EST—
Evidence of a number of new aircraft losses have emerged in the course of the last few hours, adding some concrete details to the rapidly mounting claims of aircraft shoot-downs, emanating especially from official Ukrainian sources, most of which cannot be substantiated.
This Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS) Ka-52 Hokum attack helicopter was reportedly seized by Ukrainians after it made an emergency landing in Babintsy, near Kyiv. Other, entirely unconfirmed, reports suggest that the Ka-52 was involved in aerial combat with another Russian helicopter and one Ukrainian rotorcraft, sometime yesterday. We are still looking for any independent verification of this. Note how the national markings and titles on the helicopter have been crudely overpainted.
An unidentified portion of a VKS aircraft, likely a Flanker-series fighter jet, although it cannot be confirmed when and where this photo was taken.
While the time and place of this loss are unclear, the wreckage clearly shows a VKS Su-25SM Frogfoot ground-attack aircraft. The Russians had already admitted to the loss of another, presumably different Frogfoot, while Ukraine has also lost at least one, based on photo evidence.
On the Ukrainian side, satellite imagery appears to confirm that at least one Su-27 Flanker fighter jet might have been destroyed on the ground at Ozerne Air Base, probably during Russian strikes in the first couple of days of the campaign.
UPDATED: 1:08 PM EST—
A senior U.S. defense official has given the Pentagon's latest daily assessment of the situation in Ukraine to reporters. The U.S. government now believes that the Kremlin has committed 82 percent of the total forces it had arrayed around Ukraine in recent months to the invasion, a very minimal increase over the previous day. Russian forces have now fired more than 450 missiles of "all stripes and sizes," including cruise and ballistic types, at targets in Ukraine, according to that official.
Still, Putin is "continuing to add to his options" when it comes to potentially deploying more forces to support operations in Ukraine. At the same time, the U.S. government says that, at least so far, they do not believe that Belursian forces have joined the invasion.
The airspace over Ukraine continues to be contested after seven days, according to the U.S. military. The senior U.S. defense official added that effective coordination between Russian forces on the ground and in the air, as well as missile units in the rear, still "appears to be lacking."
The advance of a massive convoy north of Kyiv continues to appear "stalled," according to U.S. military assessments, pointing to continued logistical issues. Russian forces are continuing to press their advance on other cities, including the southern port of Mariupol. The senior U.S. defense official added that Kherson in southern Ukraine continues to be a "contested city."
The U.S. government continues to stress that it expects the Russian military to take steps to mitigate its missteps so far and that it still has significant combat capacity available to commit to its operations in Ukraine. The senior U.S. defense official declined to speak to how directly Putin himself may be in the execution of this invasion at this point.
The U.S. government says that Russia is, from what it has seen, deliberately attacking civilian targets, including media infrastructure, in cities in Ukraine.
Ukraine's Special Operations Forces command says that Russian artillery units have become their number one target in light of the bombardments that multiple cities have been subjected to.
Video has appeared on social media reportedly showing a Russian Project 11356 Admiral Grigorovich class frigate sailing in the Black Sea relatively close to the coast near the Ukrainian port city of Odesa.
The Russian Ministry of Defense now released its first official figures regarding how many of its personnel have died or been injured in the fighting in Ukraine, after days of insisting that no data was available and effectively denying it forces had sustained any casualties. Figures on Ukrainian causalities were also included in the statement. The Russian casualty figures are lower than what Ukrainian authorities have claimed, but are still significant, being notably higher than what Russian forces have sustained in Syria in fighting there since 2015. Russia has sustained greater losses than it did, at least officially, during its brief war with Georgia in 2008.
These figures notably do not include any mention of prisoners of war (POW) or deserters. There have been numerous reports of Russian troops surrendering or fleeing the battlefield. Videos and pictures have been steadily emerging on social media reportedly showing captured Russian soldiers. The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense has reportedly said that mothers of POWs can come collect their children from Kyiv if they are willing to make the journey, saying that they have arranged for buses to be available for this purpose on the Polish-Ukrainian border.
The Ukrainian Armed Forces has put out new figures of its own regarding losses it says it has inflicted on Russian forces, including additional claims regarding the shooting down of Russian aircraft. Ukrainian officials have provided new civilian casualty figures, as well.
Pictures reportedly showing captured Russian military documents detailing the invasion plans have emerged online. If legitimate, they would add to the growing evidence that the Kremlin had decided to launch this operation before February 24 and that there was an expectation that it would over within just over two weeks.
Russian officials say that they have now arrived for talks with the Ukrainian counterparts, but that the latter delegation is not expected to join them until tomorrow.
POSTED: 11:45 AM EST—
The International Atomic Energy Agency issued a statement earlier today that said Russian representatives had informed the organization that its forces were in control of the area surrounding the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in southwestern Ukraine. That press release also said that Russian officials had informed the IAEA that personnel at the plant were continuing to "work on providing nuclear safety and monitoring radiation in [the] normal mode of operation. The radiation levels remain normal," indicating that they had taken control of the facility.
The exact extent of Russia's control in the area is unclear. Videos and pictures had emerged earlier showing residents of Energodar, the town associated with Zaporizhzhia, which was founded in 1970 specifically to support the nuclear power plant, blocking roads to try to prevent Russian forces from passing through. At least one video, seen in the tweet immediately appears to show Russian forces attempting to disperse them with what may be stun grenades. There is also the sound of gunfire in the clip.
The capture of Zaporizhzhia, with its six individual reactor plants, would be significant as it is not only the largest nuclear power facility in Ukraine, but the largest one in Europe. The majority of all electricity in Ukraine comes from its 15 nuclear power plants and this could put a significant portion of that generating capacity outside of the control of the government in Kyiv.
The reported seizure of Zaporizhzhia comes amid general concerns about the possible risks that the fighting in Ukraine presents to the country's nuclear power plants and the danger of radiological incidents occurring as a result.
"The Director General has repeatedly stressed that any military or other action that could threaten the safety or security of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants must be avoided," the IAEA said in its statement today. "He also said that operating staff must be able to fulfil their safety and security duties and have the capacity to make decisions free of undue pressure."
Fighting is, of course, continuing elsewhere. The U.K. Ministry of Defense has assessed that Russian forces have now fully encircled a number of key Ukrainian cities, but that the capital Kyiv is not among them.
Video and pictures showing attacks on cites like Kharkiv, which has been a major focus of Russia's invasion so far, and Kyiv, as well as surrounding areas, continue to emerge online. Scenes showing the aftermath of fighting in the streets in those same are now steadily appearing, too.
The mayor of the southern port city of Mariupol, which lies on the Sea of Azov and is now encircled by Russian forces, says that the water supply has been cut off after 14 hours of non-stop attacks.
Curiously, Ukrainian forces claim to have captured a Russian-made ENICS E95M target drone. The circumstances surrounding its reported capture and what it might have been being used for are unclear at this point.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has issued a statement saying that his country is continuing to press NATO to enforce a no-fly zone over the country, but he added that "from a professional view, there are also alternative mechanisms for ensuring the safety of Ukrainian airspace." NATO officials, and those from individual member states, have repeatedly pushed back against this appeal over the very real risk that this would almost certainly put the alliance in direct conflict with Russia, something that could spark a much larger war.
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson told members of his country's parliament today that there is clear evidence of Russian actions in Ukraine that could amount to war crimes. Government officials from other countries, as well as international organizations, such as Amnesty International, have identified multiple incidents, including indiscriminate strikes on population centers, that could meet this definition under international law.
The conflict is having major humanitarian impacts in general, on average Ukrainians, more than 677,000 of whom have now fled the country. There are worrying reports that Ukrainian hospitals are beginning to run low on critical medicines like insulin.
There are reports that Ukrainian and Russian representatives are due to meet today for a second round of talks at a site near the Belarusian border with Ukraine. A video has appeared on social media reportedly showing a convoy of cars and SUVs carrying the Russian delegation on its way to the meeting.
We will continue to update this story as more information becomes available.
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