KYIV, Ukraine —
Tension continued to grip Europe’s largest nuclear plant Monday, a day before United Nations inspectors were due to report on their efforts to avert a potential disaster at the war-torn site in southeastern Ukraine.
The Russian military accused Ukrainian forces of staging “provocations” at the Zaporizhzhia plant, which lies within a Russian-controlled administrative area.
Russia’s Defense Ministry claimed that Kyiv’s forces Sunday targeted the territory of the plant with a drone, which it said Russian troops were able to shoot down.
The ministry said Ukrainian troops also shelled the adjacent city of Enerhodar twice overnight.
The two sides have traded accusations about endangering the plant, which the Kremlin’s forces have held since early March. The plant’s Ukrainian staff continue to operate it.
In a perilous mission, experts with the International Atomic Energy Agency traveled through the war zone to reach the plant last week.
Four of six inspectors from the U.N. nuclear agency have completed their work and left the site, Energoatom, Ukraine’s state nuclear power plant operator, said Monday. Two of the experts are expected to stay at the plant on a permanent basis, Energoatom said.
The U.N. inspectors are scheduled to brief the Security Council on Tuesday about what they found on their visit.
The plant is largely crippled amid a grinding war that has clobbered energy markets.
A prominent Ukrainian nuclear expert said Monday that only a de-militarized zone of at least six miles around the plant could ensure its safety.
Hryhoriy Plachkov, Ukraine’s former head of nuclear inspections, said he also feared for the morale and mental state of his countrymen working there.
Elsewhere in Ukraine, the fighting raged on for a seventh month, with the presidential office saying Monday that at least four civilians were killed and seven others wounded by Russian shelling in the previous 24 hours across several regions of Ukraine.
Most of the casualties were in the eastern Donetsk region, where three people were killed and four were wounded. A large chunk of Donetsk is held by Russian-allied separatists.
In the Kharkiv region, further north, three people were wounded when a rocket hit a residential building, the president’s office said.
Russian shells struck more than a dozen residential buildings along with a school, cafes and stores, Ukraine said.
Meanwhile, a counteroffensive by Ukrainian forces “is making verifiable progress in the south and the east” of the country, the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War said.
“The pace of the counteroffensive will likely change dramatically from day to day as Ukrainian forces work to starve the Russians of necessary supplies, disrupt their command and control, and weaken their morale even as counteroffensive ground assaults continue,” the institute said late Sunday.
It predicted that Russian forces would launch “fierce artillery and air attacks” against the advancing Ukrainian troops and on any areas they liberate.
Amid increased Ukrainian strikes on the occupied Kherson region, Russian-installed authorities there said that for security reasons they were putting on hold their plans for a local referendum on whether the region should formally become part of Russia.