MPR News Staff and The Associated Press

Sen. Amy Klobuchar visited Ukraine this week and met with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov. Klobuchar made the unannounced trip with Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman.

A release from her office Tuesday said the two received a firsthand account of Russia’s illegal, unprovoked and brutal war on Ukraine and reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to Ukraine, NATO, and other allies in the region.

“One of the most pressing issues we discussed is the Russian capture of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. The International Atomic Energy Agency must be allowed to access the plant and Russia should agree to a demilitarized zone around it in order to prevent a catastrophe,” Klobuchar said in a statement.

“It is clear — the Ukrainian people are committed to protecting their homeland. They will not be beaten down by Putin’s evil, and the U.S. and our allies must continue to support Ukraine as it stands up to Russia.”

Klobuchar’s visit occurred a day before United Nations inspectors made their way toward Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant on Wednesday, a long-anticipated mission that the world hopes will help secure the Russian-held facility in the middle of a war zone and avoid catastrophe.

In recent days, the plant was temporarily knocked offline because of fire damage to transmission line — heightening fears that fighting could lead to a massive radiation leak or even a reactor meltdown. The risks are so severe that officials have begun distributing anti-radiation iodine tablets to nearby residents.

The complex, a vital source of energy for Ukraine, has been occupied by Russian forces and run by Ukrainian workers since the early days of the 6-month-old war. Ukraine alleges Russia is essentially holding the plant hostage, storing weapons there and launching attacks from around it, while Moscow accuses Ukraine of recklessly firing on the facility.

For months, as the fighting has played out, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency has sought access to the plant — and world leaders have demanded the U.N. nuclear watchdog be allowed to inspect it.

With a team finally on the way, Rafael Grossi, the head of the agency, said he knew full well the implications of the unprecedented mission.

“We are going to a war zone. We are going to occupied territory,” he said upon departure early Wednesday.

He added that he had received “explicit guarantees” from Russia that the mission of 14 experts would be able to do its work.

Russian authorities in Enerhodar, where the plant is located, said there were no casualties or release of radioactivity in the most recent fighting.

But that did little to assuage fears for the safety of the U.N. mission itself. Ukraine on Tuesday accused the Russians of bombing the roads the mission planned to use to access the plant, alleging they were trying to encourage the inspectors to course route and move via Russia-controlled areas instead.