Russia’s defense ministry claims there is “credible information” that Ukrainian fighters are using civilians as human shields inside the Azot chemical plant in the Donbass city of Severodonetsk.
According to the ministry, Ukrainian troops were “holding hundreds of the town’s residents and workers inside the plant’s underground facilities.”
“The nationalists have rigged tanks containing dangerous chemicals (nitric acid, ammonia, and ammonium nitrate) with explosives, and plan to blow them up during the retreat.”
The plant primarily makes fertilizer. Heavy fighting has been reported in and around Severodonetsk in recent weeks as Russian and Donbass forces try to take the city.
Sergey Gayday, the chief Ukrainian-appointed official in the region, accused Russia of shelling the Azot factory on Wednesday evening, damaging its ammonium production facility. He said the plant’s underground bunker was not damaged.
Gayday added that “according to the plant’s owner, all fertilizer and chemicals had been removed from [the plant’s] territory on the second day of the war.”
Russia’s defense ministry claimed on Thursday that Ukraine was also holding workers inside the Konditsioner plant in the town of Kramatorsk. The factory makes air conditioners and water heaters. Moscow said Ukrainian fighters positioned rocket launchers there, as well as explosives inside another chemical plant in the town of Avdeyevka.
The defense ministry further reported that, according to information provided by captured Ukrainian soldiers, “nationalists” were planning to shell the Zmiyovskaya thermal power station in the eastern Kharkov Region and then pin the blame on Moscow.
Ukraine and Russia have accused each other of the indiscriminate shelling of residential areas and killing civilians. On Thursday, Moscow reiterated that its troops only attack military assets.
Russia launched an offensive against Ukraine in late February, following Kiev’s failure to implement the terms of the Minsk agreements, first signed in 2014, and Moscow’s eventual recognition of the Donbass republics of Donetsk and Lugansk. The German- and French-brokered protocols were designed to give the breakaway regions special status within the Ukrainian state.
The Kremlin has since demanded that Ukraine officially declare itself a neutral country that will never join the US-led NATO military bloc. Kiev insists the Russian offensive was completely unprovoked and has denied claims it was planning to retake the two republics by force.