A picture taken during a visit to Mariupol organized by the Russian military shows Russian servicemen on guard at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station in Enerhodar, southeastern Ukraine, in May. File Photo by Sergei Ilnitsky/EPA-EFE
Aug. 14 (UPI) -- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russia of nuclear "blackmail" as residents evacuated amid renewed artillery fire from the direction of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, the largest in Europe.
Zelensky said in his nightly address Saturday that each day Russian forces occupy the power plant, the radiation threat to Europe grows "so much."
Zaporizhzhia is the first operating nuclear power plant in a war zone, and Western officials fear that artillery fire in and near it poses an imminent nuclear threat to Europe.
"Ukrainian diplomats and representatives of partner states will do everything to ensure that the new sanctions against Russia necessarily block the Russian nuclear industry," Zelensky said.
"And absolutely all officials of the terrorist state, as well as those who help them in this blackmail operation with the nuclear power plant, must be tried by an international court."
Zelensky added that each Russian soldier who shoots at or under the cover of the plant "will become a special target" for Ukrainian intelligence and military operations.
Long lines of cars carrying civilians were seen in posts to social media Saturday leaving the city of Enerhodar near the power plant, The New York Times reported.
Yevheny Yetushenko, the head of the Nikopol District Military Administration, said in a statement to Telegram on Sunday that Russian forces shelled pedestrian streets in the nearby town of Nikopol from the nuclear facility.
Ukrainian officials also said that Russian rockets hit Nikopol on Friday, which is located just across the Dnipro River from the Zaporizhzhia plant.
Rafael Mariano Grossi, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, issued a dire warning in an address to the United Nations Security Council and said that any military action jeopardizing nuclear safety "must stop immediately."
"These military actions near to such a large nuclear facility could lead to very serious consequences," he said.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday also said he was "gravely concerned" about shelling near the nuclear complex.
"Over the past several days there have been reports of further deeply worrying incidents that could, if they continue, lead to disaster," Guterres said.
"I am calling on the military forces of the Russian Federation and Ukraine to immediately cease all military activities in the immediate vicinity of the plant and not to target its facilities or surroundings."