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The United Nations wants to avoid a nuclear disaster in Ukraine


U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is in Ukraine, where he's calling for the Russian and Ukrainian armies to back away from a nuclear power plant over fears of a nuclear catastrophe.


Guterres is also looking for access. The United Nations wants to send a fact-finding mission to a Russian prison camp. Their plan is to look into the deaths of at least 50 Ukrainians there.

FADEL: For more, we turn to NPR's Frank Langfitt in Kyiv.

Hi, Frank.


FADEL: So, Frank, what is the state of fighting around the nuclear power plant? And what are the biggest fears here?

LANGFITT: Yeah, I mean, the shelling picked up around the plant about in the last two weeks. And both sides are blaming the other, but there's no resolution to it. Russians have been in control of the plant for - since March, I think. And they've threatened even to shut it down, which could create more risks. Ukrainians are in the middle of a counteroffensive down in the south, and they're trying to take back territory. Now, the fear is that artillery could strike, you know, spent fuel there and cause radiation leak into the atmosphere. The other thing is that you could have shelling that could cut off electricity, which is, you know, crucial to cooling reactors. You could end up with a meltdown like we saw in Fukushima, in Japan, and that could force millions to evacuate.

FADEL: Wow. Now, Russia's navy cut off commercial shipping for months in the Black Sea as well. In July, the U.N. helped cut a deal where Ukrainian ships could finally start bringing out grain. Is that working?

LANGFITT: Yeah, well, so far, at least 25 ships have left Black Sea ports with grain. I have to say that's nothing like the normal volume. For the war, I was watching satellites very closely, and the Black Sea was actually full of ships coming in and out. But the hope here certainly is that it will help increase food supplies in parts of Africa and Asia where people are struggling for food. I mean, for instance, take Somalia. That country's been suffering from drought. There are eight areas at risk of entering famine as soon as next month. That's according to the U.N. And one thing that's good, though, is that as the grain is coming out of the Black Sea, prices are coming down. Overall, the wheat market is down more than 6% this week. That's the biggest fall since mid-July.

FADEL: Now, Frank, you've been in and out of Ukraine since before the war started, and now you're back in Kyiv. What's it like?

LANGFITT: It's really interesting. I'm looking out my window right now, Leila, and I can see - first of all, there's a ton of traffic right out in front of me. And there's a little traffic island, and they've just actually replanted it with flowers. There's, like, a tank trap, and then there's a little checkpoint, but there are no soldiers. And I got to be honest - other than that, you wouldn't know that the country was at war. Things really seem back to normal in Kyiv. There's a giant supermarket I go to next door. I remember back in May, I pretty much had it to myself. Yesterday, I was there - there was a line to buy alcohol, 40 people long.


LANGFITT: And I think what you're seeing is really two Ukraines here. You know, out in the east and in the south, cities badly damaged, villages empty, some of them rubble. Places here in central and west Ukraine, they feel mostly normal day to day.

FADEL: Now, next week, the war will reach its six-month mark. What's your sense of how things stand?

LANGFITT: It was really interesting. I spoke to a Zelenskyy insider this morning who said the U.S. HIMARS, these precision rockets, are making a big difference in destroying Russian ammo on the back lines. And on the other hand, down south, they don't seem to have enough well-trained soldiers to be able to mount the kind of counteroffensive they want and attack the Russians and push them back more.

FADEL: NPR's Frank Langfitt in Kyiv.

Thank you.

LANGFITT: Good to talk, Leila. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.