Three grain carriers departed Ukraine on Friday in a landmark deal to avert widespread food shortages as Kyiv and Moscow accused each other of launching strikes on Europe’s largest nuclear facility, causing a reactor shutdown.
Russian troops have occupied the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine since the early days of their invasion, and Kyiv has accused them of storing heavy weapons there. Moscow, in turn, blamed Ukrainian forces for the attack on the plant.
“At the site of the station, near one of the power units where the nuclear reactor is located, three strikes were recorded,” the state operator of the Ukrainian nuclear power plant Energoatom said in a statement.
“There are risks of hydrogen leakage and radioactive sputtering. High fire hazard,” Energoatom said. No casualties have been reported.
It says employees of the Russian nuclear operator Rosatom hurried out of the station ahead of attacks that damaged a power cable and shut down one of the reactors.
President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky said in his daily video message that Russia should “take responsibility for the very fact of creating a threat to the nuclear power plant.”
“Today, the occupiers have created another extremely risky situation for the whole of Europe: they twice attacked the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant. Any bombing of this facility is an unscrupulous crime, an act of terror,” he said.
Earlier, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said that “the possible consequences of the destruction of a working reactor are equivalent to the use of an atomic bomb.”
The Ministry of Defense in Moscow denied this information.
“Ukrainian armed formations launched three artillery strikes on the territory of the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant and the city of Energodar,” the report says.
A new surge of tension came when Russian President Vladimir Putin met with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi.
Putin thanked Erdogan for helping organize the resumption of Ukrainian grain deliveries, the first of which should arrive in Lebanon on Sunday, according to the Ukrainian embassy in Beirut.
The Sierra Leone-flagged bulk carrier Razoni sailed from the Ukrainian port of Odessa on Monday carrying 26,000 tons of corn, the first voyage in a Turkey-brokered UN-backed deal to alleviate the global food crisis.
Kyiv said three more grain ships sailed from Ukraine on Friday towards Turkey and markets in Ireland and the UK. Another 13 are waiting to be shipped.
“Deliveries have already begun. I want to thank you both for this and for the fact that at the same time the accompanying decision was made on the uninterrupted supply of Russian food and fertilizers to world markets, ”Putin told Erdogan in Sochi.
Aslı Aydintasbas, a fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, wrote in a report last week that the war in Ukraine “rebuilt Turkey’s self-image as a key geopolitical player” and gave Erdogan a higher status than at any time in recent years. .
The Turkish leader wants to capitalize on the success of the Istanbul ceasefire talks between Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
The rare diplomatic breakthrough was overshadowed by events in Ukraine and Moscow’s announcement on Friday that it would ban 62 Canadians, including government officials, from entering the country.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said that the list included figures known for “their malicious activities in the fight against the ‘Russian world’ and our traditional values.”
Controversy has flared up in Ukraine over allegations of violating international law and endangering civilians in the fight against a Russian invasion.
On Thursday, Amnesty International released a report listing incidents in 19 cities where Ukrainian forces appear to have harmed civilians by setting up bases in residential areas.
President Zelenskiy equated the accusations with blaming the victim. In his Thursday evening address, he said the human rights group sought to offer “amnesty (to) the terrorist state and shift responsibility from the aggressor to the victim.”
“There are no conditions, even hypothetical ones, under which any Russian strike on Ukraine becomes justified. Aggression against our state is unprovoked, predatory and terroristic,” he added.
“If someone makes a message in which allegedly the victim and the aggressor are somehow equal … then this is unacceptable.”
Amnesty International said a four-month investigation found that the Ukrainian military had set up bases in schools and hospitals and carried out attacks from populated areas.
He stated that such tactics violate international humanitarian law and rejected criticism of his report.
“The findings…were based on evidence gathered through extensive investigations conducted under the same strict standards and due diligence procedures as all of Amnesty International’s work,” Secretary General Agnes Callamard told AFP in an emailed comment. .
On Friday, Zelensky’s office and local authorities reported nightly Russian bombing raids on the southern city of Mykolaiv using 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.
During the night, the city of Zaporozhye was hit by several rockets, and the second largest city in Ukraine, Kharkiv, in the northeast, was subjected to massive shelling.
Ukrainian forces are counter-offensive in the south, where they say they have recaptured more than 50 villages formerly controlled by Moscow.