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  • Borislav Ivanov

Zelenskiy Visits Zaporizhzhya by Surprise and Meets IAEA Head

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy paid an unexpected visit to frontline positions in the Zaporizhzhya area, where he also met with UN nuclear watchdog chief Rafael Grossi to discuss the security of Europe's largest nuclear power plant as violence rages throughout the country's eastern flank.

On March 27, Zelenskiy informed the chairman of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that it was impossible to restore safety at the site while Russia retained control.

"Without the immediate withdrawal of Russian troops and personnel from the Zaporizhzhya nuclear plant and adjacent territory, any initiatives to restore nuclear safety and security are doomed to failure," Zelenskiy told Grossi, according to a statement from the president's office.

The president also drew Grossi's attention to the relentless pressure that power plant staff are under from Russian forces, the statement said.

The IAEA has not commented on Grossi's meeting with Zelenskiy, but Grossi earlier tweeted that the meeting was to discuss safety issues surrounding the nuclear plant, which is held by Russian forces and has been forced to switch to emergency diesel generators on several occasions after fighting nearby knocked out power lines.

"I met with Zelenskiy today in Zaporizhzhya City & had a rich exchange on the protection of the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant and its staff. I reiterated the full support of the IAEA to Ukraine's nuclear facilities," he said.

Grossi confirmed that he would be visiting the plant "to assess first-hand the #nuclear safety & security situation at the facility."

Zelenskiy's office said in an earlier statement that the head of state on March 27 spoke with troops "in frontline positions" in the Zaporizhzhya region and presented them with state awards, while also being apprised of the "operational situation in the relevant areas of the front, the provision of ammunition and equipment."

Meanwhile, heavy fighting continued unabated in the Donetsk region, the Ukrainian military said, with the Russians keeping up the pressure on the ruined city of Bakhmut, the focal point of Moscow's offensive in the east, and also increasingly targeting Avdiyivka, another city in Donetsk.

According to local reports, two civilians were killed and 29 were injured in Russian bombardment of the city of Slovyansk.

Zelenskiy published a video of the shelling in Slovyansk on his Telegram account, labelling the incident as "terrorism."

Ukrainian forces repelled more than 60 Russian attacks in Bakhmut and its surroundings, the General Staff of the Armed Forces said in its daily report, as the invading forces continued to indiscriminately bombard both military and infrastructure targets, causing damage and casualties among civilians.

"The probability of missile and air strikes on the entire territory of Ukraine remains high, as the enemy uses terror tactics," the General Staff warned, adding that Russian assaults mostly targeted Avdiyivka, Lyman, Kupyansk, and Maryinka.

Russia has consistently denied it has targeted civilian infrastructure since it started its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 even though residential and cultural buildings around the nation have been continually attacked during the war.

The situation in Bakhmut remains "continually difficult," the commander of Ukraine's Ground Forces, General Oleksandr Syrskiy, said during a visit to the front line on March 27, according to the Defense Ministry.

The current fighting in and around Bakhmut has reached "the most intense phase," Syrskiy said, adding, "The enemy has suffered significant losses in human resources, weapons, and military equipment but continues to conduct offensive operations."

According to Ukrainian military authorities, Russian forces appear to be shifting their attention to Avdiyivka, less than 100 kilometres southwest of Bakhmut, where Russian bombardment has shut down all public facilities and forced municipal personnel to flee the city. Just approximately 2,000 civilians remain from a pre-war population of over 30,000.

Avdiyivka is about 20 kilometres northeast of Donetsk, which has been occupied by Russian-backed forces since 2014.

On March 26, Vitaliy Barabash, the leader of the city's military administration, declared on Telegram that Russian bombardment had converted Avdiyivka into "a site from post-apocalyptic movies."

The latest combat occurred just after German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced that Germany has supplied promised Leopard battle tanks to Ukraine.

When asked to confirm a news story that Germany had provided 18 modern Leopard tanks, Scholz said at a press conference in Rotterdam, "Yes, we delivered Leopard tanks exactly as we stated."

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