The United Nations secretary general and the presidents of Turkey and Ukraine met on Thursday to discuss ways to end Kyiv’s conflict with Russia and secure Europe’s largest nuclear power station, which has come under shelling at the front lines.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters after talks in Lviv, Ukraine, on Thursday he was gravely concerned by circumstances at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, and called for military equipment and personnel to be withdrawn.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he, Guterres and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy discussed building upon recent positive events to revive peace negotiations with Russia that took place in Istanbul in March.
The two sides recently reached an agreement, brokered by the UN and Turkey, for Russia to lift a blockade of Ukrainian grain shipments. Exports have started to resume.
NATO member Turkey has maintained good relations with Russia, an important trade partner, and sought to mediate in the nearly six-month-old conflict.
“Personally, I maintain my belief that the war will ultimately end at the negotiating table. Mr. Zelenskyy and Mr. Guterres have the same opinion in this regard,” Erdogan said.
There was no immediate comment from Moscow.
Ukraine says Russia using nuclear plant as shield
Secretary General Guterres reiterated calls for demilitarization around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant.
“The facility must not be used as part of any military operation. Instead, agreement is urgently needed to re-establish Zaporizhzhia’s purely civilian infrastructure and to ensure the safety of the area,” Guterres said.
Russia, which captured Zaporizhzhia soon after its Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, said it could shut down the facility — a move Kyiv said would increase the risk of a nuclear catastrophe.
Moscow had earlier rejected as “unacceptable” international calls for a demilitarized zone around the nuclear plant, which is still operated by Ukrainian engineers under Russian occupation.
The power station sits on the Russian-controlled south bank of a huge reservoir; Ukrainian forces hold the north bank. Recent days have seen several incidents of shelling at the plant, which both sides blame on each other.
Ukraine also accuses Russia of using the Zaporizhzhia plant as a shield for its forces to launch strikes across the reservoir on Ukrainian-held cities, which Moscow denies.
Reuters cannot independently confirm the military situation there or who is responsible for shelling.
Zelenskyy, after meeting Guterres on Thursday, said that they had agreed on parameters for a possible mission of the International Atomic Energy Agency to the plant.
“Russia should immediately and unconditionally withdraw its forces from the territory of Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, as well as stopping any provocations and shelling,” he said.
Explosions on Thursday in Kharkiv and Crimea
Meanwhile, 17 people were killed and 42 injured in two separate Russian attacks on the major northeastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, the regional governor said on Thursday.
Three civilians were killed and 17 wounded in a pre-dawn rocket strike on Thursday, the local emergency service said. That followed a Russian attack on Kharkiv on Wednesday, in which the emergency service initially said 12 people were killed.
Also on Thursday, at least four explosions were reported were reported by three local sources near a major Russian military airport on the Moscow-controlled Crimean peninsula. Ukraine has hinted it orchestrated other blasts over the last 10 days at other Russian installations in Crimea.
The sources said Thursday’s explosions were near Russia’s Belbek military airport, north of the Black Sea fleet’s headquarters in Sevastopol.
Sevastopol governor Mikhail Razvozhayev, writing on Telegram, said Russian anti-aircraft forces downed a Ukrainian drone and no damage occurred.
The general staff of the Ukrainian armed forces said in a statement on Friday that Russian forces had launched attacks and tried to make advances on three or more fronts in the course of the day and that Ukrainian forces had repelled them.
In the south, 73 Russian soldiers were killed and 13 pieces of equipment and ammunition depots were destroyed as Ukrainian forces sought to take control of new territory, the regional command said on Facebook.
“In the course of the ensuing battle, [our] units fired on the enemy, which, as a result, was obliged to return to its original position with losses of tanks, armoured vehicles and personnel.”
Reuters could not immediately versify the battlefield accounts.