NATO rejects no-fly zone over Ukraine




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NEW YORK – The U.N. Security Council has scheduled an emergency open meeting on the attack on Ukraine’s largest nuclear power plant.

The meeting, to be held at 1630GMT Friday, was requested by the United States, United Kingdom, France, Ireland, Norway and Albania.

Council diplomats said the International Atomic Energy Agency will brief council members. Russia’s shelling of Europe’s biggest nuclear plant in Ukraine received widespread international condemnation on Friday. The shelling at the Zaporizhzhia plant in Enerhodar had touched off a fire that was extinguished. Russian forces have taken control of the site.

TOKYO – Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has condemned Russia’s attack on Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in Ukraine, calling it “unforgivable reckless act.”

Kishida said he talked on the phone with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and told him that “Russian attack on the nuclear plant was an unforgivable reckless act.”

Russian forces shelled Europe’s largest nuclear power plant Thursday, causing a fire there that was extinguished overnight but sparking global fear of radiation leaks. The International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nation’s nuclear watchdog, says there was no sign on Friday of radiation leaks.

A massive earthquake and tsunami in March, 2011 destroyed power and cooling systems at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, causing its triple meltdowns, spewing large amounts of radioactive materials in its surroundings and keeping part of the region still uninhabitable.

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VATICAN CITY – The head of the Polish bishops’ conference has written directly to the head of the Russian Orthodox Church urging him to appeal to President Vladimir Putin to stop the war and to urge Russian soldiers to disobey orders on moral grounds and stand down.

“The time will come to settle these crimes, including before the international courts,” In his Mar. 2 letter to Patriarch Kirill, Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki warned that “the time will come to settle these crimes, including before the international courts.” He added that even if someone avoids human justice, “there is a tribunal that cannot be avoided.”

Gądecki’s tone was significant, given its sharp contrast to the comparatively neutral tone used by the Vatican and Pope Francis. The Holy See to date has called for peace and a return to negotiations, and even offered itself as a mediator, but has not condemned Russia by name or its invasion.

The Vatican has a tradition of such diplomacy, believing that it can facilitate dialogue better if it doesn’t take sides or call out an aggressor. In the case of Ukraine, however, Francis has been criticized for selling out Ukrainian Catholics at the expense of his longer-term goal of improving relations with the Russian Orthodox Church.

As recently as December, Francis had expressed hope that a second meeting with Kirill could soon be organized, after their historic encounter in 2016, the first between a pope and Russian patriarch.

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MOSCOW — Russians could face prison sentences of up to 15 years for spreading information that goes against the Russian government’s position on the war in Ukraine, a move that comes as authorities block access to foreign media outlets.

The Russian parliament voted unanimously Friday to approve a draft law criminalizing the intentional spreading of what Russia deems to be “fake” reports.

Russian authorities have repeatedly decried reports of Russian military setbacks or civilian deaths in Ukraine as “fake” reports. State media outlets refer to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a “special military operation” rather than a “war” or “invasion.”

State news agencies said the draft law was approved by the lower and upper houses of parliament in quick succession. It could be signed into law by President Vladimir Putin and take effect as soon as Saturday, the speaker of the lower house, Vyacheslav Volodin, said

The blocks affect the BBC, the U.S. government-funded Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, German broadcaster Deutsche Welle and Latvia-based website Meduza. Together, they are among the most influential and often critical foreign media publishing in Russian.

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SOFIA, Bulgaria – The Jewish Shalom organization in Bulgaria rejected as “absolutely unjustifiable and inappropriate” Russian propaganda claims that Ukraine is a Nazi state that has to be de-Nazified.

Shalom said in a statement Friday that Ukraine is one of the few countries in the world to pass a law criminalizing antisemitism.

The organization said it strongly condemns Russia’s invasion in Ukraine, which President Vladimir Putin is trying to justify, claiming that the goal of his military aggression was “the demilitarization and de-Nazification” of Ukraine.

Shalom said its members mourn together with those who died in the first days of the conflict and expressed sympathies to “the hundreds thousands of Ukrainians who lost their homes, who were separated from their loved ones, and forced to flee the borders of their homeland, including thousands of Jewish families.”

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BRUSSELS – NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says the military organization will not police a no-fly zone over Ukraine and is warning that such a move could end in a wide-spread war in Europe.

Speaking Friday after chairing a meeting of NATO foreign ministers, Stoltenberg said “we are not going to move into Ukraine, neither on the ground, nor in the Ukrainian airspace.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces have ramped up their attacks in Ukraine, launching hundreds of missiles and artillery strikes on cities and making significant gains in the south.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has appealed to the West to enforce a no-fly zone over his country, most recently after a fire overnight at one of Ukraine’s nuclear plants, the largest in Europe.

“The only way to implement a no-fly zone is to send NATO fighter planes into Ukrainian airspace, and then impose that no-fly zone by shooting down Russian planes,” Stoltenberg said. “We understand the desperation, but we also believe that if we did that, we would end up with something that could end in a full-fledged war in Europe.”

“We have a responsibility as NATO allies to prevent this war from escalating beyond Ukraine,” he said.

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ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey’s foreign minister says Ankara wants to bring Russia and Ukraine’s top diplomats together for talks during an international diplomacy forum in the country next week.

Speaking Friday to reporters in Brussels where he attended a NATO meeting, Mevlut Cavusoglu said Russian Foreign Minister Seygey Lavrov has confirmed his attendance at the Antalya Diplomacy Forum to be held in the Mediterranean coastal city between March 11-13.

Cavusoglu said a meeting between Lavrov and Ukraine’s Dmytro Kuleba could be possible, but added that he was not certain Ukrainian officials would be able to attend.

Turkey, which has close ties to both Ukraine and Russia, has been trying to balance its relations with both. It has repeatedly offered to mediate between the two.

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The Dutch military says it has begun housing refugees who fled Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The Defense Ministry said Friday that the first 120 refugees arrived a day earlier at a military base in Harskamp, a village in the central Veluwe region.

The Harskamp base can house 950 refugees. It also is home to a sprawling firing range where Dutch troops regularly practice live fire exercises.

Another group of 50 Ukrainian refugees arrived Friday in the western town of Waddinxveen, where they are being housed in a local sports hall.

The town’s mayor, Evert Jan Nieuwenhuis, greeted the new arrivals and told local broadcaster Omroep West it was “heartbreaking. It brings tears to your eyes.”

He said he was glad the town could do something to help the refugees fleeing the conflict in Ukraine “even if it is just a drop in the ocean.”

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LONDON — The Ukrainian government and a former British prime minister are pushing for a special criminal tribunal to prosecute Russian President Vladimir Putin and his allies over the invasion of Ukraine.

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the call for a body to investigate the “crime of aggression” was based on the tribunals that prosecuted senior Nazis after World War II.

The Netherlands-based International Criminal Court is already investigating allegations that Russia has committed war crimes in Ukraine. But while it can investigate genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, Russia has not signed up to a separate ICC statute under which nations pledge not to commit “crimes of aggression.”

Brown said that “this act of aggression by Russia … cannot go uninvestigated, unprosecuted and unpunished.”

He said the Russian president “must not be able to escape justice.”

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba welcomed the call for a tribunal, which is backed by legal experts and academics from around the world.

“We are fighting against an enemy who is much stronger than us. But international law is on our side,” Kuleba told a meeting in London by video link from Ukraine.

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TOKYO — Japan is sending bulletproof vests, helmets and other defense supplies to Ukraine to help the country fight Russia’s invasion.

It is a rare move by Japan, which has a principle of not shipping defense supplies to countries in conflict.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters Friday that shipping and other logistical details are being finalized after a decision by the National Security Council.

Bulletproof vests, helmets, tents, as well as generators, food, winter clothes and medical supplies will be delivered by Self-Defense Force aircraft, Matsuno said.

The planned shipment comes after a request from Ukraine. Japan, because of its pacifist principles, is supplying only non-lethal goods, Matsuno said.

“(Russia’s) unilateral change of status quo by force, which is absolutely unallowable, is an act that shakes the foundation of international order,” he said. “International society is sticking together and taking unprecedented steps to support Ukraine.”

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WARSAW, Poland — Polish security services say they have arrested a Spanish citizen on suspicion of spying for Russia.

Security services spokesman Stanislaw Zaryn said the man, who was born in Russia but holds a Spanish passport, was arrested on the night of Feb. 27 at a hotel in Przemysl, in southeastern Poland, and had journalist status.

Przemysl, near Poland’s border with Ukraine, is one of the main points where hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees arrive as they flee Russia’s invasion.

Also, thousands of additional U.S. troops recently deployed to Poland to strengthen NATO’s eastern flank are stationed in the area.

The man allegedly was collecting information that was sensitive to Poland’s security and defense, Zaryn told The Associated Press.

The man is accused of spying for Russia. If convicted, he could get up to 10 years in prison.

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BERLIN — Austria’s former chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel has quit his post on the supervisory board of Russian oil firm Lukoil.

The Austria Press Agency quoted Schuessel on Friday saying that while he had always backed “constructive relations” between Russia and the European Union, the Russian invasion of neighbor Ukraine had “crossed a red line.”

Schuessel said he had worked to help produce a statement by Lukoil this week that called for an end to the conflict.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — With Europeans unnerved by a Russian attack on a nuclear power plant in Ukraine, Norwegian health authorities want municipalities to review iodine preparedness for children under 18, pregnant and breastfeeding women.

“Although no emissions from nuclear power plants in Ukraine have been reported, the risk of accidents and incidents is higher than normal due to the war in the country,” deputy health director Espen Rostrup Nakstad said Friday.

Since 2017, iodine tablets have been recommended as a contingency measure by the Directorate for Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety (DSA) and the Norwegian Directorate of Health, the latter said in a statement.

It added that approximately 2.2 million tablets are stored in the municipalities for this purpose. In addition, people between the ages of 18 and 40 are recommended to buy iodine tablets at pharmacies as self-preparedness.

“In the current situation, it is not relevant to use iodine tablets, but we still want the municipalities to be sure that they are available at short notice if there is a need for it,” Rostrup Nakstad said.

Recent reports say sales of iodine tablets in Denmark, Sweden and Finland have increased sharply since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

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GENEVA — The U.N.’s top human rights body has voted overwhelmingly to appoint a three-person panel of experts to monitor human rights in Ukraine, where Russian forces are invading.

The Human Rights Council voted 32-2, with 13 abstentions, to pass a resolution that was presented by many Western countries and others who have spoken out against Moscow’s attack on its neighbor.

Only Russia and Eritrea opposed the resolution, with China abstaining.

The vote Friday was the culmination of an urgent debate called by Ukraine, during which most council members lambasted Russia.

Many Western envoys sported blue or yellow ties, scarves, jackets or ribbons on their lapels, in a reference to the colors of the Ukrainian flag. Far-flung countries such as Gambia and Malaysia spoke out against the invasion.

The result testified to growing international isolation of Russia: On Monday, five countries — including China — had voted against Ukraine’s effort to convene the urgent debate.

Ukraine’s ambassador Yevheniia Filipenko, her eyes red with emotion, told delegates after the vote: “I thank all those who voted for the right course.”

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BERLIN — Chancellor Olaf Scholz says Germany and its partners have determined there is currently no risk to the public from a fire at a Ukrainian nuclear plant.

Speaking to reporters during a visit to German troops Friday, Scholz said Germany had immediately performed measurements and exchanged information with other nations following the incident at the Zaporizhzhia plant, where Russian forces attacked late Thursday.

Scholz said the incident shows how dangerous the situation in Ukraine is.

Scholz said it is “completely clear” that NATO will not participate in the conflict in Ukraine, where the country’s president wants a no-fly zone to be imposed.

“Together we are ensuring that nobody attacks NATO territory,” Scholz said, noting that the alliance has positioned additional troops in its eastern member states for this purpose.

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WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s pharmaceutical authorities say customers are asking whether they should take iodine to protect against radiation, after a nuclear plant in neighboring Ukraine was targeted by invading Russian troops.

Tomasz Leleno, spokesman for Poland’s Main Pharmaceutical Chamber, said Friday that pharmacists and doctors are advising against that, because iodine may cause more harm than good if used without consulting a doctor.

The United Nations atomic watchdog said there has been no release of radiation at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant after a building on the site was hit by Russian shelling.

But the development has alarmed Poles. Sale of iodine solution had already surged last week, after Russian troops took control of Ukraine’s idled Chernobyl nuclear plant, where there was an accidental meltdown in 1986.

After Chernobyl, many people in Poland, especially the young, took iodine, as some experts claimed it could shield against radiation.

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VIENNA — The head of the UN atomic agency says a Ukrainian nuclear plant was hit by a Russian “projectile” but that the building it struck was a training center and there has been no release of radiation.

Initial reports were unclear about what part of the plant was affected by a fire that broke out after the shelling late Thursday, amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi said Friday that the building was “not part of the reactor.”

He said Ukrainians are still in control of the reactor and the fire has been extinguished.

The Ukrainian state nuclear company said three Ukrainian troops were killed and two wounded in the Russian attack.

The UN says only one reactor at the plant is operating, at about 60% of capacity.

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MOSCOW — Russia’s state media regulator Roskomnadzor is blocking access to the websites of five international media organizations.

State news agency RIA Novosti reported Friday that the blocked websites include those of the BBC, Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

The sites were blocked for hosting what Roskomnadzor told RIA was “false information” about Russian military actions in Ukraine, including reports of attacks on civilians and the Russian military’s losses.

The five named organizations, also including Latvia-based Russian-language website Meduza and German broadcaster Deutsche Welle, are among the largest foreign news outlets with Russian-language news operations.

On the early afternoon in Moscow, the BBC Russian service and Radio Free Europe Russian-language content were not reachable, but Voice of America content remained accessible.

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BERLIN — UNICEF says that about 500,000 children have been forced to flee their homes in Ukraine over the past week due to Russia’s invasion, calling the exodus “unprecedented in scale and speed.”

“If the violence (doesn’t) stop, many, many more children will be forced to flee their country in a very short space of time,” James Elder, a spokesman for the United Nations Children’s Fund, said Friday. “And we fear many more will be killed.”

He said UNICEF is sending large amounts of humanitarian supplies to Ukraine to help those in need and also providing emergency training to pediatricians who are being sent to the region.

“They’re preparing for a mass casualty of children,” he said, adding that the training included a triage system for treating children.

The International Organization for Migration said Friday that so far 1.25 million people have fled Ukraine, including almost 80,000 third-country nationals.

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LONDON — Google is suspending sales of online ads in Russia after the country’s communications regulator demanded the tech giant stop spreading through its advertising what Moscow called false information about the Russian military in Ukraine.

The company said late Thursday that the suspension covers YouTube, search and display ads.

Google is one of the world’s biggest sellers of online ads.

The Russian regulator, Roskomnadzor, issued several notices to Google this week warning the company about spreading false information or demanding it ease restrictions on YouTube channels operated by Russian media.

Separately, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky tweeted that the short-stay booking site is suspending all operations in Russia and its neighboring ally Belarus. Chesky did not elaborate

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BERLIN — The shelling of a large Ukrainian nuclear power plant by invading Russian forces has brought a chorus of outrage from top European officials.

European leaders on Friday expressed dismay and anger at the incident, with Italian Premier Mario Draghi condemning the strike on the nuclear plant as “an attack against everyone.”

Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said that “attacking nuclear facilities is a criminal act to terrorize the public.”

Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics on Twitter called the shelling “insane.”

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock accused the Kremlin of attacking its neighbor Ukraine with “undiminished force and brutality, carrying out wanton destruction, besieging entire cities and trying to grind down the civilian population.”

Speaking ahead of a meeting of European Union foreign ministers in Brussels, Baerbock said efforts would continue to put political and economic pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin and to isolate Russia for as long as the war continues.

“With his war against Ukraine (Putin) is also driving his own country into ruin,” Baerbock said.

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MOSCOW — The Russian parliament has passed a bill introducing sentences of up to 15 years in prison for intentionally spreading “fake” information about military action.

Russian state news agencies reported Friday the passing of the bill in the third and final reading.

The development came amid a crackdown by Russian authorities on independent media and criticism of last week’s invasion of Ukraine.

The bill now heads to the upper house of parliament, whose approval is expected to be a formality, before President Vladimir Putin can sign it into law.

Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin says it may enter into force as early as Saturday.

Spreading what Russian authorities deem to be false information is punishable by up to three years in prison, or 15 years if it is deemed to have “severe consequences.” The bill also bans calling for sanctions to be implemented against Russia.

Less than two hours after the bill was passed, news website Znak said it was shutting down, citing “the large number of restrictions which have appeared recently affecting the work of media in Russia.”

Russia’s top independent radio station Ekho Moskvy was closed Thursday and independent TV station Dozdh ceased operations after receiving a threat of closure from the authorities.

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BRUSSELS — NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has condemned Russia’s attack on a nuclear power plant in southeast Ukraine and is urging Russian President Vladimir Putin to pull his invading troops out of the country.

Stoltenberg says the shelling of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant “just demonstrates the recklessness of this war, the importance of ending it, and the importance of Russia withdrawing all its troops and engaging in good faith in diplomatic efforts.”

Russian forces have seized control of the nuclear site, the largest of its kind in Europe.

Stoltenberg’s remarks came before he chaired a meeting Friday of U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his NATO counterparts to take stock of the West’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Blinken is set to meet later Friday with foreign ministers from the European Union.

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BERLIN — The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross says the humanitarian group is “seeing a devastating humanitarian crisis unfold in Ukraine.”

Peter Maurer called Friday for all parties in the conflict to adhere to the rules of war, sparing civilians from military operations and allowing them safe passage.

Maurer said Red Cross teams are “receiving a flood of calls from people desperate for safety.”

“Casualty figures keep rising while health facilities struggle to cope,” he said. “Civilians staying in underground shelters tell us that they fled shells falling directly overhead. They have no extra clothes, supplies or their needed medication. They need assistance now.”

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Norway’s Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre said the Russian shelling that led to a fire at Europe’s biggest nuclear plant was “in line with madness.”

The fire was put out early Friday and Ukrainian officials said that radiation levels in the area weren’t at dangerous levels.

If there were a leak, “it will take about 48 hours before it arrives in Norway,” Gahr Støre told Norwegian broadcaster NRK.

In Lithuania, President Gitanas Nauseda described the attacks by Russian forces on Ukraine’s nuclear power plants as “nuclear terrorism” and called for an immediate international response to “Russia’s nuclear crimes.”

The world learned of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in the Soviet Union only after heightened radiation was detected in Sweden. Norway, which neighbors Sweden, was also able to measure higher-than-normal level of radioactivity 36 years ago.

In recent days, there have been reports that sales of iodine tablets in Sweden and Denmark have increased sharply since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with authorities saying there is no reason for people to be taking iodine tablets linked to events in Ukraine.

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BEIJING — China says it is “seriously concerned about the safety and security” of nuclear facilities in Ukraine following a blaze at Europe’s biggest nuclear plant ignited by Russian artillery fire.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told reporters Friday that China will continue to follow developments at the Zaporizhizhia plant in the city of Enerhodar and “calls on all parties concerned to maintain calm and restraint, prevent further escalation of the situation and ensure the safety of the nuclear facilities concerned.”

“China attaches great importance to nuclear safety and is seriously concerned about the safety and security situation of nuclear facilities in Ukraine,” Wang said.

The spokesperson’s comments marked a rare Chinese sign of unease over the war in Ukraine, in which Beijing has largely sided with its neighbor and close security partner Russia. Chinese leader Xi Jinping hosted Russian President Vladimir Putin in early February, after which the sides issued a lengthy joint statement pledging mutual support.

China has abstained on votes at the United Nations on sanctioning Russia and demanding the withdrawal of Russian troops, and blamed the unprovoked Russian invasion on NATO’s eastern advance and a lack of attention to Russia’s security concerns.

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LONDON — Britain’s deputy prime minister says Russia’s shelling of a nuclear power plant is an example of the ever more brutal tactics Russian President Vladimir Putin is resorting to as his invasion of Ukraine faces greater resistance than expected.

Dominic Raab’s comments came after shelling triggered a fire at the Zaporizhzhia power plant overnight. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council to discuss the attack.

“It was clearly a reckless bombardment of a very sensitive and precarious and dangerous facility,” Raab told Sky News on Friday. “And the fact that the Russians kept bombarding it after there was the fire and the Ukrainian emergency rescue team were trying to get to that makes it doubly reprehensible.” ___

KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian authorities say a fire at Europe’s biggest nuclear plant ignited by Russian shelling has been extinguished, and that Russian forces have taken control of the site.

The regional military administration said in a statement Friday that the fire at the Zaporizhzhia plant in Enerhodar was extinguished, and that there is damage to the compartment of reactor No. 1 but it does not affect the safety of the power unit.

No information was immediately available about casualties.

The military administration said Russian forces took control of the site and that operational personnel are ensuring its safe operation.

Earlier, plant officials had said that shelling hit an administrative building and reactor No. 1.

The town mayor and state emergency service also said the fire was extinguished.

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