August 26, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Rhea Mogul, Aditi Sangal, Jack Bantock, Adrienne Vogt and Elise Hammond, CNN

Updated 2:06 a.m. ET, August 29, 2022
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2:14 a.m. ET, August 26, 2022

Zelensky: Emergency diesel generators activated at Zaporizhzhia plant to avoid "radiation disaster"

From CNN's Amy Cassidy, Bex Wright and Jonny Hallam

The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant outside the Russian-controlled city of Enerhodar, Ukraine, on August 22.
The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant outside the Russian-controlled city of Enerhodar, Ukraine, on August 22. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

Backup diesel generators were “immediately activated” at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant on Thursday to avert a “radiation disaster," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said.

“Today, for the first time in history, the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant stopped,” Zelensky said in his nightly address Thursday.

“The emergency protection of the power units worked — after the last working line of the plant's power return to the Ukrainian power system was damaged by Russian shelling," he said.

CNN is unable to verify who is responsible for the shelling, as both sides have accused the other.

There were originally four power lines supplying electricity to the plant; three were out of action due to the ongoing fighting around the facility. The last remaining power line supplying electricity to the plant went offline Thursday, requiring the diesel generators to be used. The power on the last remaining line has since been restored as of Thursday evening. 

“The world must understand what a threat this is: If the diesel generators hadn’t turned on, if the automation and our staff of the plant had not reacted after the blackout, then we would already be forced to overcome the consequences of the radiation accident,” Zelensky said. 

The generators are installed to supply power to cooling pumps to stop the fuel from overheating in the event of a blackout, but are not fully reliable, the CEO of Energoatom, Ukraine’s state energy operator, Petro Kotin, told CNN on Monday. 

“Russia has put Ukraine and all Europeans in a situation one step away from a radiation disaster,” Zelensky alleged. 

The International Atomic Energy Agency and other international bodies “must work much faster than they’re acting now” he said, “because every minute the Russian troops stay at the nuclear power plant is a risk of a global radiation disaster.”

More background: The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant is currently not supplying electricity to Ukraine — it is off the grid — however, the reactors need to continue to receive electricity so they can safely operate and avoid a nuclear accident. 

The reactors must have backup power supplies so the systems that provide cooling for spent fuel elements and cooling of residual heat produced in shut down reactors continue to work safely. The electricity to the plant is also needed for maintaining services such as lighting, and ventilation to the reactor.

8:31 p.m. ET, August 25, 2022

"Everything hangs on a thin thread": Staff exodus risks safety at Ukraine nuclear plant

From CNN's Rebecca Wright, Olga Konovalova and Oleksandra Ochman

When Russian troops started shelling nearby towns from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant where she worked in southeastern Ukraine, Elena decided it was time to escape.

She had kept working at the Zaporizhzhia complex for months after it was stormed by the Russians in March, among hundreds of Ukrainian workers effectively kept hostage to enable the power station ​— the largest nuclear power plant in Europe — ​to keep running.

But eventually, the constant explosions and fears for her young son's life made her take the risk to leave.

"It's scary," Elena told CNN. "Everything explodes there."

CNN agreed to use only Elena's first name out of respect for her safety concerns.​

The Ukrainians have accused the Russian troops of using the plant as a shield, and risking serious damage or a potential disaster at the plant. In response, the Kremlin has repeatedly claimed Ukrainian forces are shelling the plant.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said during an address to the UN Security Council on Wednesday that Russia had "put the world on the brink of radiation catastrophe" by turning the plant into a "war zone," and called for demilitarization of the plant.

"At night (the Russians) are firing somewhere behind the reservoir," Elena said. "There are many, many explosions at the same time, like big cars firing."

Worker exodus: Fears about the consequences of the actions of Russian troops around the plant have hastened an exodus of workers.

"For the last two weeks, there has been a crazy outflow of staff," said Daria, an employee who is still working at the nuclear plant. ​CNN agreed not to use her real name in light of her safety concerns. "We have people leaving en masse, dozens of them, in packs."

Elena said employees at the plant are terrified of the Russian troops based there, as they walk around with machine guns and, at night, often "get drunk and shoot in the air."

Read the full story here.

8:36 p.m. ET, August 25, 2022

Russian-held Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant disconnects from power grid after nearby fires

From CNN's Tim Lister, Yulia Kesaieva and Tara John

Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which is held by Russian forces, was disconnected from the power grid for the first time in its history on Thursday, according to the country's nuclear operator.

While the power supply to the plant has since been restored, the plant's six reactors remained disconnected from Ukraine's energy grid on Thursday evening local time, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said, citing Ukraine.

Ukraine's nuclear operator Energoatom said fires at a nearby thermal power plant caused the nuclear plant's last remaining power line to disconnect twice. The plant's three other lines had been "lost earlier during the conflict," the nuclear watchdog said.

Energoatom blamed Russia for the disconnection. "The actions of the invaders caused a complete disconnection of the ZNPP (Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant) from the power grid — the first in the history of the plant," it wrote in a statement.

The Russian-installed regional governor blamed Ukrainian military action for the outages, and added "work was underway to restore the power supply to the region and launch the second power unit."

Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant generates about 20% of Ukraine's electricity and a prolonged cut from the national grid would be a huge challenge for Ukraine as colder weather approaches.

The nuclear plant, which is Europe's largest, has been under Russian control since March. Clashes around the complex have sparked widespread concern and fears of a disaster.

Read the full story here.