Grain ships depart from Ukraine as Kyiv, Moscow blames trade on nuclear plant

The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant outside the Russian-controlled city of Enerhodar in Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia region. Photo: Reuters

KYIV: Three grain ships left Ukraine on Friday in a historic deal to prevent widespread food shortages, as Kyiv and Moscow accused each other of attacking Europe’s largest nuclear site. This shut down the reactor.

Russian troops have occupied the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in southern Ukraine since the early days of their invasion, and Kyiv has accused them of stockpiling heavy weapons there. Moscow in turn has accused Ukrainian forces of targeting the plant.

“Three attacks were recorded at the plant site, near a power block where the nuclear reactor is located,” Ukraine’s state-run nuclear power plant operator Energoatom said in a statement.

“There are risks of hydrogen leaks and radioactive spills. The risk of fire is high,” Energoatom said. He did not report any casualties.

It said crews from Russian nuclear operator Rosatom had hurriedly left the plant before the attacks, which damaged power cables and forced a reactor to shut down.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his daily video address that Russia “must accept responsibility for the fact that it threatened the nuclear plant.”

“Today, the occupiers have created another extremely dangerous situation for the whole of Europe: they have hit the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant twice. Any bombing of that place is a shameless crime, an act of terrorism,” he said. Is.”

Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry has previously said that “the possible consequences of targeting a working reactor are equivalent to using an atomic bomb”.

The Ministry of Defense in Moscow has denied these reports.

“Armed units of Ukraine launched three artillery strikes on the territory of Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and the city of Energodar,” it said.

The new escalation in tensions came as Russian President Vladimir Putin was meeting his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi.

According to the Ukrainian embassy in Beirut, Putin thanked Erdogan for helping to resume Ukrainian grain shipments, the first of which is due to arrive in Lebanon on Sunday.

The Sierra Leone-flagged bulk carrier Razoni left the Ukrainian port of Odessa on Monday with 26,000 tonnes of maize – the first departure under a UN-backed deal brokered with the help of Turkey to ease the global food crisis.

Three more ships loaded with grain left Ukraine on Friday and headed for markets in Turkey and Ireland and Britain, Kyiv said. Another 13 are awaiting departure.

“Deliveries have started,” Putin told Erdogan in Sochi. “I want to thank you, for that and for the fact that at the same time there is an uninterrupted supply of Russian food and fertilizers to world markets.” The decision has been made,” Putin told Erdogan in Sochi.

Isli Aydantasbas, a fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, wrote in a report last week that the war in Ukraine has “restored Turkey’s self-image as a major geopolitical player” and that Erdogan is more likely than ever. Has been given a high position in the competition. recent years.

Turkish leaders want to parlay this success into ceasefire talks between Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Istanbul.

– Extensive investigation –

The unusual diplomatic development was overshadowed by events on the ground in Ukraine, and on Friday Moscow announced it was banning the entry of 62 Canadian citizens, including government officials.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said the list includes figures known for their “malicious activity in the fight against the Russian world and our traditional values”.

In Ukraine, a conflict has erupted over allegations that it is violating international law and endangering civilians in its fight against Russian aggression.

Amnesty International released a report on Thursday listing incidents in 19 cities and towns where Ukrainian forces have set up bases in residential areas and harmed civilians.

President Zelensky called the allegations tantamount to victim-blaming. In his evening address on Thursday, he said the rights group had sought “amnesty for the terrorist state and a shift of responsibility from the aggressor to the victim”.

“There are no conditions, even hypothetically, that would justify any Russian attack on Ukraine. The aggression against our state is unprovoked, aggressive and terrorist,” he added.

“If someone makes a report that somehow equates the victim and the attacker… then that cannot be tolerated.”

Amnesty said a four-month investigation found that the Ukrainian military had set up bases in schools and hospitals and launched attacks from populated areas.

It said the tactics violated international humanitarian law and rejected criticism of its report.

“These findings… were based on evidence gathered during an extensive investigation, which, like all Amnesty International’s work, is subject to strict standards and due diligence,” Secretary-General Agnès Callomard told AFP in emailed comments. were subject to the process of

– Retaliation –

On Friday, Zelenskiy’s office and local officials reported that overnight Russian bombardment hit the southern city of Mykolaiv with widely banned cluster bombs and heavy artillery — injuring 20 people, including a 14-year-old boy.

Mykolaiv is on the main route to Odessa, Ukraine’s largest port on the Black Sea, and is the closest city to the southern front.

Several missiles hit the city of Zaporizhzhia overnight, and Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second city in the northeast, was heavily bombed.

Ukrainian forces are retaliating in the south, where they claim to have recaptured more than 50 villages previously controlled by Moscow.