LVIV, Ukraine (Reuters) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy appealed to Russians on Friday to stage protests over Russian forces’ seizure of the largest nuclear power plant in Europe.
A building at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant was set ablaze during intense fighting, Ukrainian authorities said on Friday, triggering fears of a potential nuclear disaster. The blaze was later extinguished.
“Russian people, I want to appeal to you: how is this possible? After all we fought together in 1986 against the Chernobyl catastrophe,” he said in a televised address, evoking memories of the world’s worst nuclear disaster.
“You have to … take to the streets and say that you want to live, you want to live on earth without radioactive contamination. Radiation does not know where Russia is, radiation does not know where the borders of your country are.”
Russia’s defence ministry blamed the attack at the site of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant on Ukrainian saboteurs, calling it a monstrous provocation.
Russian forces that invaded Ukraine last week have already captured the defunct Chernobyl plant north of Kyiv, which spewed radioactive waste over much of Europe after an accident there in April 1986.
Analysts have said the Zaporizhzhia plant is a different and safer type, but Zelenskiy said that now was not the time to be silent.
“You have to remember the burning graphite scattered by the explosion, the victims. You have to remember the glow over the destroyed power unit, the evacuation,” he said.
“How can you forget that? And if you have not forgotten, you should not be silent.”
(Reporting by Natalia Zinets and Pavel Polityuk, Writing by Alessandra Prentice, Editing by Timothy Heritage)