The 14-strong team arrives in Zaporizhzhia from Kiev with a convoy including white UN-marked cars, as Kiev and Moscow trade blame over shelling at and around Europe's largest nuclear power plant.
United Nations inspectors en route to a Russian-held atomic power plant on the frontline of fighting in southern Ukraine are aiming to prevent "a nuclear accident", the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief has said.
The mission arrived in the Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia, 55 kilometres (34 miles) away from the plant, earlier on Wednesday.
Asked about plans for a demilitarised zone at the plant — a demand backed by the UN — IAEA director Rafael Grossi said "this is a matter of political will".
"But my mission — I think it's very important to establish (this) with all clarity — my mission is a technical mission," he told reporters. "It's a mission that seeks to prevent a nuclear accident. And to preserve this important (nuclear power plant)."
The fate of Europe's largest nuclear power plant, which is located on the frontline of the fighting, has stoked fears of a nuclear disaster.
The 14-member team, led by Grossi, was expected to continue the final leg of its journey to the Russian-held plant on Thursday morning on a route through Russian-occupied territory.
Earlier in the day, Grossi said the expert team planned to spend "a few days" at the plant and would report back afterwards. He said the team had received explicit safety guarantees for their journey to the plant.
"These are very complex operations," he said. "We are going into a war zone, we're going to occupied territory, and this requires explicit guarantees not only from the Russian Federation but also from the Republic of Ukraine and we have been able to secure that."
Team of nuclear inspectors from IAEA arrives in Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia as fears over a nuclear leak grow due to fighting around nuclear power plant pic.twitter.com/hneQY0uUsg— TRT World Now (@TRTWorldNow) August 31, 2022
As the IAEA team set out for the plant that has grabbed global concerns and sparked widespread concerns, Ukraine urged Russia to halt its shelling of the route to be taken by the experts.
"The Russian occupying forces must stop shelling the corridors to be used by the IAEA mission and not obstruct its activities at the plant," foreign ministry spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko wrote on Facebook.
The plant has been occupied by Russian troops since March and Ukraine has accused Russia of deploying hundreds of soldiers and storing ammunition there. Both sides have repeatedly traded blame over attacks in the area.
"Sadly, Russia is not stopping its provocations precisely in the direction the mission needs to travel to reach the plant," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said late on Tuesday after meeting Grossi.
The situation was "extremely menacing", he said, accusing the Russians of "continuing bombardments" and calling for "an immediate and total demilitarisation" of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant.
The area has been shelled repeatedly in recent days, with Ukraine on Wednesday accusing Russian forces of hitting Energodar, a town next to the plant that had a population of some 50,000 people before the conflict erupted.
In Moscow, the Russian defence ministry accused Kiev of "continued provocations aimed at disrupting the work of the IAEA mission".
It alleged that Kiev's forces had shelled the area around the plant on Tuesday and hit a building containing "the solid radioactive waste processing complex".
The day has come, @IAEAorg's Support and Assistance Mission to #Zaporizhzhya (ISAMZ) is now on its way. We must protect the safety and security of #Ukraine’s and Europe’s biggest nuclear facility. Proud to lead this mission which will be in #ZNPP later this week. pic.twitter.com/tyVY7l4SrM— Rafael MarianoGrossi (@rafaelmgrossi) August 29, 2022