Kyiv, Ukraine (AP) – Europe’s largest nuclear power plant relied on emergency diesel generators on Thursday to activate its safety systems after the external power supply to the Ukrainian electricity grid was re-cut, officials from Ukraine and the United Nations said.

Fighting in Ukraine has repeatedly damaged power lines and electrical substations that the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant requires to operate internal security systems, forcing workers to use backup generators to cool six reactors until normal power is restored. All six reactors were shut down. The generators have enough fuel to run a power plant in Southeast Ukraine for just 15 days, the state-owned nuclear energy company Energoatom said.

“The countdown has begun,” Energoatom said, noting that it has limited ability to “keep ZNPP in safe mode.”

The United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed the switch to backup diesel generators and said it was highlighting “the extremely precarious nuclear safety situation at the facility”.

Rafael Grossi, the head of the UN Nuclear Guard, said relying on diesel generators “is certainly not a sustainable way to operate a large nuclear facility” and again called for a protection zone around the plant.

Russia and Ukraine blamed themselves during the war for the shelling in and around the plant. Energoatom announced on Thursday that the Russian shelling destroyed the last two high-voltage transmission lines powering the plant in Zaporizhia. Russia gave a different account, blaming Ukraine.

The Russian state news agency Tass cited an official from the Russian nuclear energy operator, Rosenergoatom, who claimed that Ukraine shut down two power lines and denied that Russian firing on power lines caused the problems. He said the move robbed the city of Energodar, where the factory workers live, of heating.

Russian forces have been occupying the factory since the beginning of the war. It is located in the Zaporizhia region, one of four illegally annexed by Russia. Although Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree to hand over the nuclear power plant to Russia, Ukrainian workers still run the plant.

Energoatom said Russian officials are trying to connect the plant to the Russian power grid so that it can supply electricity to Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014, and the Ukrainian region of Donbas, another area annexed by Putin.

Cars travel in the dark, with the Motherland Monument in the background, in downtown Kiev, Ukraine, Thursday, November 3, 2022. Power outages are increasing in Ukraine due to Russian rocket att*cks as the government rushes to stabilize the power grid and repair the system before winter.

The number of people from earlier battles became evident again on Thursday, when Ukrainian officials reported that 868 bodies of civilians, including 24 children, had been found in the liberated areas of the Kharkiv, Donetsk and Kherson regions. A national police official, Oleksiy Serheyev, also told reporters that 34 torture sites were found following the withdrawal of Russian troops from these areas and from the Kiev, Sumy and Chernihiv districts.

Elsewhere on the battlefield, Russia used drones, missiles, and heavy artillery to strike several Ukrainian cities, leaving six civilians killed and 16 injured, according to the president’s office. Russian att*cks on Kryvyi Rih, the hometown of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, have deprived several districts of electricity and water.

Further east, in the Donetsk region, there were fights for the cities of Bakhmut and Avdiyevka, where, according to the authorities, the population is under constant fire and lives without electricity and heat. Six towns and villages in the region were att*cked on the last day, while three Russian missiles struck Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city in the northeast, officials said.

View of the bridge destroyed as a result of fighting in the village of Dolina, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Thursday, November 3, 2022.

Across the Dnieper from the power plant, the city of Nikopol was also shelled again, damaging residential buildings, a gas station and several businesses, Zelensky’s office said on Thursday.

In a rare mention of a possible retreat, which the Ukrainians viewed with skepticism, a Moscow-appointed official in the occupied southern Kherson region said Russian troops “most likely” would pass across the Dnieper, away from the city of Kherson. Kirill Stremousov also told Russian state television that all Ukrainian att*cks have been repelled.

Tens of thousands of civilians were evacuated from the city of Kherson in the wake of the Ukrainian counteroffensive. Russian authorities lifted their country’s flag from the administration building in Kherson on Thursday, a week after the regional government moved.

Ukraine’s military spokeswoman from the south, Natalia Humeniuk, said the removal of the flag could be a provocation “and we should not rush to rejoice.” She also told Ukrainian TV that some Russian soldiers are disguising themselves as civilians.

Neither side could be independently verified.

View of St.  George in the village of Dolina, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Thursday, November 3, 2022.

On the humanitarian front, seven ships carrying 290,000 tons of agricultural produce sailed from Ukrainian seaports to Asia and Europe, the day after Russia agreed to resume participation in the Ukrainian grain export program. Putin said Moscow had received assurances that Ukraine would not use humanitarian corridors to att*ck Russian forces.

Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleh Nikolenko denied that Kyiv would make any new commitments.

“Ukraine did not use and did not plan to use the grain corridor for military purposes. The Ukrainian side clearly adheres to the provisions of the grain agreement, ”Nikolenko wrote on Facebook.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov warned on Thursday that Russia’s decision would not extend the deal after it expired on November 19.

Russia suspended its participation in the grain deal last weekend, citing an alleged Ukrainian drone att*ck on the Black Sea fleet in Crimea. Ukraine said the Russians mishandled their weapons.

In Moscow, the Russian Foreign Ministry summoned British Ambassador Deborah Bronnert on Thursday to protest against alleged help from British instructors in a drone att*ck on the Black Sea fleet on October 29 in Sevastopol, Crimea. Bronnert made no comment after the meeting.

Under the grain export deal, Russia was supposed to be able to resume exports of fertilizers and grain, but Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Thursday that he saw no progress in this regard.

Since the conclusion of the agreement in July, 430 ships have exported 10 million tons of Ukrainian agricultural products to the countries of Africa, Asia and Europe. Ukraine’s Ministry of Infrastructure said export volumes in October “could have been 30-40% higher if Russia had not artificially blocked controls.”

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres praised the achievement of 10 million tonnes and called on all parties to renew the grain deal.

“I’m not an optimist, I’m not a pessimist. I am determined, ”Guterres told reporters in New York, adding that it is important to remove obstacles to Russian food and fertilizer exports.

Both sides announced on Thursday another prisoner exchange, involving a total of 214 soldiers.

Elsewhere, a Ukrainian military official said Russia is using Belarusian territory to launch drone strikes. Oleksiy Hromov said Iranian drones arrive in Ukraine from a military base in the Belarusian city of Luninets, 100 kilometers (62 miles) north of the border.

Meanwhile, the UN nuclear agency said on Thursday that its inspections found no evidence to support Russia’s unsubstantiated claims that Ukraine plans to detonate radioactive “dirty b*mbs” after investigating three locations in Ukraine. Western countries called Moscow’s repeated claims “obviously false.”

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