March 3, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

By Jessie Yeung, Adam Renton, Jack Guy, Laura Smith-Spark, Adrienne Vogt, Melissa Macaya and Maureen Chowdhury, CNN

Updated 12:01 a.m. ET, March 4, 2022
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11:41 p.m. ET, March 3, 2022

Zelensky urges world leaders to stop Russia "before this becomes a nuclear disaster"

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russia of a "nuclear terror attack" after a fire broke out at a nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russia of a "nuclear terror attack" after a fire broke out at a nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine. (Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky/Facebook)

In a Facebook post early Friday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russia of intentionally firing at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, after a fire broke out at the facility following heavy shelling from Russian forces.

Ukrainian authorities say the power plant has not sustained any critical damage, and that radiation levels are currently normal, though the situation remains fluid and firefighters continue to battle the blaze.

“Russian tanks are shooting at the atomic blocks equipped with thermal imagers. They know what they are shooting at. They’ve been preparing for this (attack),” he said in the post.

Zelensky also referred to the Chernobyl tragedy and its victims in the post. "For all Ukrainians, for all Europeans, for all people who know the word 'Chernobyl,' how many victims there were."

The 1986 Chernobyl disaster, which took place in Soviet Ukraine, is considered the worst nuclear accident in history. It was a "global catastrophe that affected the lives of hundreds of thousands of people," and had a lasting impact on the country, Zelensky said.

What's happening now: Ukrainian authorities say fighting has stopped in the area and about 40 firefighters are working to put out the blaze.

"We don’t know how it is going to end with the fire at the station, if there might be an explosion, God forbid," Zelensky said, adding "our guys are keeping the atomic power station secure."

But the very fact Russia launched an attack at the plant is itself an extremely dangerous act and could cause a potential catastrophe, he said. "There are 15 nuclear reactors in Ukraine. If one of them blows, that’s the end for everyone, that’s the end of Europe," he added.

"No country besides Russia has ever fired upon an atomic power plant’s reactors. The first time, the first time in history," he said, urging European leaders to "wake up now" and stop Russian forces “before this becomes a nuclear disaster.” 
11:10 p.m. ET, March 3, 2022

Kharkiv mayor: Russia is "intentionally trying to eliminate Ukrainian people"

Kharkiv Mayor Ihor Terekhov.
Kharkiv Mayor Ihor Terekhov. (CNN)

The mayor of Kharkiv, the northeastern city under siege by Russian forces, told CNN on Friday the Russian military is "intentionally trying to eliminate Ukrainian people" as it targets civilian spaces.

“The situation is extremely difficult," Mayor Ihor Terekhov said. "To date, Kharkiv has been hard impacted by continuous bombardment. Planes are flying constantly, (rockets) are being launched, grenades are launched, and residential houses are being hit."

There are no Ukrainian troops stationed in the residential blocks, according to Terekhov. “That means that they are purposefully hitting the residential buildings,” he said.

While many residents are taking shelter, “a great number” have been killed, Terekhov said, adding that many are wounded and in hospital. 

The state emergency services in Ukraine on Thursday morning said 34 civilians in the Kharkiv region had been killed in just 24 hours, and another 285 injured.

11:03 p.m. ET, March 3, 2022

Fire at nuclear plant started in a training building, says Ukraine's emergency services

From CNN's Masha Angelova and Josh Pennington

The fire that broke out at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant on Friday started in a training building outside the main reactor complex, according to Ukraine's State Emergency Services (SES). 

"As of 05:20am (local time), the State Emergency Service Units responded to the fire at the training building of the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant," SES said in a statement on Telegram.

Some 40 firefighters and 10 units are now working to tackle the blaze, SES said. 

“The occupiers will face severe punishment for this cynical attack on the largest nuclear power plant in EUROPE!” the statement read. 

A spokesperson for the nuclear power plant, Andrii Tuz, told CNN on Friday, “I have no idea how far Putin will go. Nobody believed that they could start shooting at a nuclear power plant. We need to stop the war now! And not wait for the onset of a nuclear catastrophe!”
10:56 p.m. ET, March 3, 2022

British PM Boris Johnson speaks with Zelensky, plans to call emergency UN meeting

From CNN's Nicola Careem and Akanksha Sharma

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has spoken with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky about the “gravely concerning situation” at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, he said in a tweet Friday.

“Russia must immediately cease its attack on the power station and allow unfettered access for emergency services to the plant," Johnson said.

Johnson's office released a statement after the two leaders' call, saying the United Kingdom "would do everything it could to ensure the situation did not deteriorate further."

"The reckless actions of President Putin could now directly threaten the safety of all of Europe," the statement added.

Emergency UN meeting: The statement added that Johnson will seek an emergency United Nations Security Council meeting in the coming hours, where the UK plans to raise this issue with Russia and its partners.

10:53 p.m. ET, March 3, 2022

International Atomic Energy Agency's emergency center is in "full 24/7 response mode"

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has put its Incident and Emergency Centre in "full 24/7 response mode" due to the "serious situation" at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the agency said on Twitter.

The agency is in contact with Ukrainian authorities about the ongoing fire at the power plant.

Read the tweet:

10:51 p.m. ET, March 3, 2022

Videos show aftermath of deadly Russian strikes on apartments in northern Ukraine

From CNN's Paul P. Murphy, Celine Alkhaldi, Gianluca Mezzofiore and Katie Polglase

New videos posted to social media show the horrific aftermath of Russian military strikes that hit an apartment complex in the northern city of Chernihiv on Thursday. 

CNN has geolocated and verified the authenticity of this and other videos that show the moment of the strikes and the aftermath.

One video shows the strike as it happens, with residential buildings torn apart in a split second. Sirens echo as the camera shows parts of the building’s walls torn open, exposing entire apartment rooms. The walls of one apartment complex were reduced to rubble.

A fire is seen on the ground, with smoke elsewhere still rising from the explosion. 

The person filming the video moves out into the street, which is littered with debris and damaged cars. The video shows an injured woman on the ground, beside two people who appear burned and unmoving. "Kids ... little kids," she can be heard saying.

CNN does not know the condition of the woman seen in the video.

A second before the military strikes, the roar of a projectile is heard on a surveillance video from a nearby house in Chernihiv, which shows at least five explosions. 

Deaths reported: The Ukrainian Emergency Services said on Twitter that as of 6:20 p.m. local time, they had pulled 33 bodies from the rubble of the complex in addition to 18 injured people.

There are no military facilities nearby, only civilian structures like residential buildings and schools, the Chernihiv Regional State Administration told CNN.

10:44 p.m. ET, March 3, 2022

Here's what we know about the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant fire

All eyes are on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine, where officials reported a fire breaking out amid heavy shelling by Russian forces. Here's what we know:

What happened? Ukrainian authorities said about 2:30 a.m. local time Friday that a fire had broken out at the nuclear power complex, located in Enerhodar, southeastern Ukraine.

The plant is the largest of its kind in Ukraine and contains six of the country's 15 nuclear energy reactors, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Fighting has since stopped in the area, a spokesperson for the power plant, Andrii Tuz, told CNN.

How serious is the situation? It's hard to say since there is still a lot we don't know — such as where the fire is located within the complex, whether the reactors have been impacted, whether there are secondary and tertiary cooling systems in place, and more.

But the plant has not sustained any "critical" damage, Tuz said. The fire has not affected any "essential" equipment, and staff are taking action to mitigate any damage, said the IAEA, citing Ukrainian authorities.

Are we seeing any radiation spikes? No — nuclear regulators and government bodies in the US and Ukraine say radiation levels appear normal at the moment.

What are the risks and how likely are they? The worst-case scenario would be if a fire or attack reached the reactors, disrupted their cooling system and caused a meltdown, which would release large amounts of radioactivity.

Graham Allison, professor at the Belfer Center, Harvard University, told CNN early Friday that plants have systems to automatically fight fires, but not "all fires" — so the situation depends on where the blaze is happening. And "not all fires in a power plant, have catastrophic consequences," he said.

10:21 p.m. ET, March 3, 2022

US activates Nuclear Incident Response team, sees no elevated radiation readings at Zaporizhzhia plant 

From CNN's Pete Muntean

US Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm tweeted Thursday night that she spoke with Ukraine’s energy minister about the situation at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.

The US has activated its Nuclear Incident Response Team, and is monitoring the situation along with the Department of Defense, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the White House, she said.

Radiation levels normal: "We have seen no elevated radiation readings near the facility. The plant’s reactors are protected by robust containment structures and reactors are being safely shut down," she said.

"Russian military operations near the plant are reckless and must cease," she added.
10:14 p.m. ET, March 3, 2022

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant generates about 20% of Ukraine's electricity

From CNN's Travis Caldwell and Steve Almasy

Early Friday, Ukrainian officials reported a fire at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. Here's what we know about the facility:

Where is the plant? It's located in the city of Enerhodar, southeastern Ukraine, some 70 miles (112 kilometers) from the city of Zaporizhzhia. Six power units are in operation at the facility, with the first coming online in 1984, according to Energoatom, Ukraine’s nuclear power operator.  

How much power does it generate? The plant generates 40-42 billion kWh, which accounts for one-fifth of the average annual electricity production in Ukraine and almost 47% of electricity generated by Ukrainian nuclear power plants.  

The plant has capabilities “for continuous radiation monitoring of the nuclear power plant industrial site, the sanitary protection and 30-kilometers radiation control zones,” according to Energoatom. There is also a dry storage facility onsite for spent fuel. 

What's the biggest concern? National security analyst Joe Cirincione told CNN he was “very concerned” about the blaze." There are multiple ways this could get very terrible very quick,” he said.

He warned the plant could see a nuclear meltdown if the electricity or plumbing to the facility get cut off. Cirincione added that if the Russian military wants to take the plant offline, they should capture the facility rather than physically attack due to the dangers involved. 

“If those fuel rods are still in the reactor and you cut off the electricity, then you're cutting off the cooling system that controls the reaction and you'll be unleashing an uncontrollable nuclear chain reaction in that facility. You will have a meltdown,” he said. 

But we don't know enough yet: Nuclear policy expert Graham Allison told CNN that "not all fires at a power plant have catastrophic consequences." A disaster would depend on where the fire is located, whether staff are able to take the appropriate measures, and several other factors — including how many reactors were impacted, he said.

The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant seen on July 9, 2019.
The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant seen on July 9, 2019. (Dmytro Smolyenko/Future Publishing/Getty Images)