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Shelling around a nuclear plant in Ukraine causes a lot of concern


In Ukraine, fighting near a nuclear power complex in the south has alarmed both sides and led to calls for an international mission to ensure the plant's safety.


The crisis comes as focus on the battlefield turns to the southern region of Ukraine. Ukrainians are readying an apparent counteroffensive by targeting Russian supply lines. And the Russian military surges forces into the area.

MARTINEZ: NPR's Tim Mak joins us now from Kyiv. Tim, let's start with the situation at the nuclear complex. Russian military has occupied this area since close to the start of the war. So what's the most recent cause for concern?

TIM MAK, BYLINE: So in the last few days, shelling around the nuclear power plant has damaged power lines, radiation sensors and an auxiliary building. That's according to the Ukrainian organization that runs nuclear power stations. So this could get quite dangerous quite quickly. It's the first ever nuclear power plant in an active war zone. So we're seeing challenges like difficulties getting spare parts or workers with expertise into the complex. Ukraine and Russia blame each other for these attacks in recent days. And the International Atomic Energy Agency has expressed alarm about the ongoing situation. They're calling for a mission led by their experts to monitor safety at the plant. But because the plant is in territory currently occupied by the Russian military, there are going to be some real legal and technical challenges in getting these observers there. Now, Ukraine has asked for a third party to take control of the plant for the time being, and has also suggested that the power plant area be made into a military-free zone.

MARTINEZ: All right. So what's the U.S. been doing to support the Ukrainians as they continue this fight?

MAK: Well, in the last day, the Pentagon announced $1 billion in military assistance to Ukraine. It's one of the largest packages that the U.S. has committed to thus far. This latest package includes ammunition for anti-aircraft systems, for example. But perhaps most notably, it includes ammunition for artillery systems known as HIMARS. These HIMARS systems have proven to be critical assets for the Ukrainian military because it substantially increases the range at which it can hit Russian targets precisely. Now, this latest package brings the Biden administration's total military aid to Ukraine up to close to $10 billion.

MARTINEZ: Now, we've heard a lot about fighting in eastern Ukraine, Tim, the Donbas region. Is the focus, though, shifting a bit?

MAK: Well, you know, fighting does continue in the east. But Russian progress appears to be quite slow. That's according to the British Ministry of Defense. Along Russia's most successful area of advance, they managed to move forward just 10 kilometers in about 30 days. Meanwhile, Western and Ukrainian assessments are that the Russian military is moving troops into the south in order to bolster its defenses against what's anticipated to be a Ukrainian counteroffensive. Now, this counteroffensive would be around the strategic city of Kherson. Ukraine has targeted Russian supply lines - striking things like bridges, ammunition depots, rail links - to prevent the Russian military from resupplying or bringing more troops in. Now, there's been slow progress in both the east and the south. It really gives you a sense of just how difficult it's been for both sides to make forward progress on the battlefield in a very complicated situation now that we're in the sixth month of this war.

MARTINEZ: NPR's Tim Mak is in Kyiv, Ukraine. Tim, thank you.

MAK: Thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Tim Mak is NPR's Washington Investigative Correspondent, focused on political enterprise journalism.