Nuclear meltdown fears as Ukraine pummelled ‘like never before’


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Russia has unleashed a wave of hypersonic missiles for the first time since the start of the conflict in Ukraine, triggering meltdown alarm at Europe’s largest nuclear power plant.

The deadly barrage struck cities across Ukraine while people slept on Thursday, knocking out electricity and briefly forcing the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant off the grid.

“This was a major attack and for the first time with so many different types of missiles,” a Ukrainian air force spokesperson told the Reuters news agency.

“It was like never before.”

The strikes impacted 10 regions, including the capital Kyiv, the Black Sea port of Odessa and the second city of Kharkiv, killing at least nine people.

Kyiv said it included an unprecedented six kinzhal hypersonic cruise missiles, one of Moscow’s most valuable weapons.

Russia had reportedly not deployed its kinzhal missiles – which can evade detection – since the early days of the war.

Ukraine said it successfully shot down 34 cruise missiles and four Iranian-made Shahed drones but had been unable to intercept the six kinzhals, the BBC reports.

Russia’s Defence Ministry claimed to be targeting “key elements of Ukraine’s military infrastructure”.

But the deadly assault once again impacted the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant which was cut off from the Ukrainian power system for the sixth time.

The connection was later restored after the facility was forced to operate on diesel generators.

Nuclear meltdown danger

The precarious nuclear situation sparked a warning from the International Atomic Energy Agency that attacks on the plant were playing with fate.

“Each time we are rolling a dice. And if we allow this to continue time after time then one day our luck will run out,” IAEA director general Rafael Grossi said.

Mr Grossi said he was “astonished by the complacency” of such strikes and appealed for a protection zone.

“This cannot go on,” he said.

“We must commit to protect the safety and security of the plant. And we need to commit now. What we need is action.

“Let me remind you, this is the largest nuclear power station in Europe,” he said.

The IAEA fears ‘luck will run out’ with attacks on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant. Photo: Getty

Russia’s sudden assault shattered the longest calm since Moscow began an air campaign against Ukraine’s civil infrastructure five months ago.

“The occupiers can only terrorise civilians. That’s all they can do. But it won’t help them. They won’t avoid responsibility for everything they have done,” President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a statement.

Russia’s defence ministry said it had carried out a “massive retaliatory strike” as payback for a cross-border raid last week.

In Kyiv, the seven-hour alert through the night was the longest of Russia’s five-month air campaign.

Undetectable  missiles

Moscow confirmed it had used hypersonic kinzhal missiles in Thursday’s attack.

Ukrainian officials said it was the first time they had faced so many of the weapons, which Ukraine has no way to shoot down.

Russia is believed to have just a few dozen kinzhals, which fly many times faster than the speed of sound and are built to carry nuclear warheads with a range of more than 2000 kilometres.

In his speeches, President Vladimir Putin regularly touts the kinzhal as a weapon for which NATO has no answer.

Targets stretched from Zhytomyr, Vynnytsia and Rivne in the west to Dnipro and Poltava in central Ukraine, officials said.

On the battlefield, the week has brought an apparent shift as Ukraine has decided to fight on in Bakhmut, a small city that has borne the brunt of a Russian winter offensive in the bloodiest fighting of the war.

Moscow says Bakhmut is strategically important as a step to securing the surrounding Donbas region, a major war aim. The West says the ruined city has little value and Russian generals are sacrificing lives to give Mr Putin his only victory since sending hundreds of thousands of reservists into battle at the end of 2022.

Ukraine had appeared likely to withdraw from Bakhmut, but commanders now say they are inflicting enough damage on Russia’s assault force to justify staying and fighting on.

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