deadly strike hits city still reeling from dam disaster
David Guttenfelder for The New York Times

KYIV, Ukraine — A day after President Volodymyr Zelensky warned of the potential for Russian sabotage at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe, government agencies were laying out steps that residents could take to prepare for a nuclear disaster.

Though officials urged people to remain calm, at one pharmacy in the capital there was already a sharp uptick of people looking for potassium iodide pills.

“We are completely sold out,” said a worker at the Wholesale Prices Pharmacy, Denys Yakymenko, adding that one man had come in to buy seven boxes of the tablets in what Mr. Yakymenko saw as panic purchasing. “Last year, we had it as well.”

Another nearby pharmacy attached to a clinic, however, had not seen panic buying. Only one person had come looking for the medication, workers there said.

Potassium iodide is used to saturate a person’s thyroid with iodine so that radioactive iodine inhaled or ingested after exposure will not be retained by the gland. The tablets are one way to combat the effects of radiation exposure.

The Ukrainian capital is more than 340 miles from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, but there have been significant concerns about the safety of the plant, particularly in recent days, and a disaster there could affect an area of hundreds of miles.

On Thursday, Mr. Zelensky said that Ukrainian intelligence “has received information that Russia is considering the scenario of a terrorist act at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant — a terrorist act with the release of radiation.”

While Russia has denied the accusation, some in Ukraine were preparing for the worst.

Ukrainians have been through similar scares before, as escalations in the war led many to prepare for Russia to target the nuclear power plant or the deployment of a tactical nuclear weapon in Ukraine.

Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

Concerns about an accident at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant have risen in recent weeks, as Ukraine has mounted a counteroffensive in the region and the Kakhovka dam was destroyed by an explosion, draining a reservoir used to feed a key cooling pond at the plant. The head of the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog agency warned earlier this earlier this week of an “extremely fragile” security situation at the plant.

Then came a cryptic warning on Wednesday from Ukraine’s military intelligence chief, Kyrylo Budanov, that the Russians had mined the cooling pond, a charge that Moscow denied and that U.N. inspectors at the plant said they had seen no evidence of. Finally, Mr. Zelensky raised the alarm on Thursday.

Ukraine’s interior minister, Ihor Klymenko, said in a televised address on Friday that the government was convening engineers, representatives of the state emergency services, the police and doctors to prepare for an attack or act of sabotage at the plant that might release radiation. He urged people to remain calm and follow instructions from the authorities.

“The radioactive background that may be present in the air after any events will last for about one day,” he said. “We will reduce the radioactive background by 80 percent within a day.”

Mr. Klymenko said that in the case of a radiation release or a nuclear attack residents who are not instructed to evacuate should lock themselves in their rooms, close windows and turn off air conditioners to limit their exposure to radiation.

“We will clearly give all the instructions and all the rules of behavior during this time,” Mr. Klymenko said.

He also noted that exercises would be held in the coming days to prepare, but added that equipment for measuring radiation levels in Ukraine was ready for use.

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