Ukrainian Nuclear Power Plant, Europe's Largest, Seized by Invading Russian Forces

The Zaporizhzhia Plant in Enerhodar, Ukraine, was the target of shelling by Russian troops for at least a day prior to falling under their control

A screen grab taken from a surveillance camera footage the Zaporizhzhya NPP
A screen grab taken from a surveillance camera footage the Zaporizhzhya NPP. Photo: Zaporizhzhya NPP/HANDOUT/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Europe's largest nuclear power plant, located in the southern-central region of Ukraine, has fallen under Russian control as the invasion of the country continues to intensify.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said on Friday that "Russian forces had taken control of the site of the country's Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (NPP), but that the nuclear power plant continued to be operated by its regular staff and there had been no release of radioactive material," according to IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi.

"Ukrainian counterparts informed the IAEA that a projectile overnight had hit a training building in the vicinity of one of the plant's reactor units, causing a localized fire that was later extinguished," the statement also said.

According to a CNN report, Russian forces even held station management workers at gunpoint. "[Russian solders] entered the territory of the nuclear power plant, took control of the personnel and management of the nuclear power plant," the outlet reported.

While the overall safety of the plant's six nuclear reactors had not been affected and there was no release of radioactive material, according to the IAEA, Grossi said he was "extremely concerned about the situation at the Zaporizhzhia NPP."

Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant
File: Olexander Prokopenko/AP/Shutterstock

He added, "Firing shells in the area of a nuclear power plant violates the fundamental principle that the physical integrity of nuclear facilities must be maintained and kept safe at all time."

The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said the attack reflected a "dangerous new escalation" in Russia's invasion, Reuters reports.

During an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting, she warned that "imminent danger" remained in spite of the plant currently being deemed safe, and demanded assurances from Russia that such an attack will not happen again.

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"By the grace of God, the world narrowly averted a nuclear catastrophe last night," Thomas-Greenfield tweeted on Friday. "Russia must halt any use of force that might put at further risk all 15 operable reactors across Ukraine – nuclear facilities cannot become part of this conflict."

Reuters also reported that the plant and its adjacent territory were now being guarded by Russian troops, according to Moscow's envoy to the United Nations.

On Thursday, the Associated Press reported that the Zaporizhzhia Plant — Europe's largest nuclear power plant — was being shelled by Russian troops, which ultimately caused the fire to break out.

Dmytro Kuleba, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, tweeted Thursday, "Russian army is firing from all sides upon Zaporizhzhia NPP, the largest nuclear power plant in Europe. Fire has already broke out. If it blows up, it will be 10 times larger than Chornobyl! Russians must IMMEDIATELY cease the fire, allow firefighters, establish a security zone!"

The Zaporizhzhia power station in Enerhodar is in the southern-central region of Ukraine, on the opposite side of the country from Chernobyl, which is near the capital city of Kyiv. Concerns had been raised last week as to the security of that nuclear site as well, when Russian forces took it over.

Russia's attack on Ukraine continues after their forces launched a large-scale invasion on Feb. 24 — the first major land conflict in Europe in decades.

Details of the fighting change by the day, but hundreds of civilians have already been reported dead or wounded, including children. More than a million Ukrainians have also fled, the United Nations says.

"You don't know where to go, where to run, who you have to call. This is just panic," Liliya Marynchak, a 45-year-old teacher in Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine, told PEOPLE of the moment her city was bombed — one of numerous accounts of bombardment by the Russians.

The invasion, ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin, has drawn condemnation around the world and increasingly severe economic sanctions against Russia.

With NATO forces massing in the region around Ukraine, various countries have also pledged aid or military support to the resistance. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called for peace talks — so far unsuccessful — while urging his country to fight back.

Putin insists Ukraine has historic ties to Russia and he is acting in the best security interests of his country. Zelenskyy vowed not to bend.

"Nobody is going to break us, we're strong, we're Ukrainians," he told the European Union in a speech in the early days of the fighting, adding, "Life will win over death. And light will win over darkness."

The Russian attack on Ukraine is an evolving story, with information changing quickly. Follow PEOPLE's complete coverage of the war here, including stories from citizens on the ground and ways to help.

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