September 25, 2022

(AFP) – Moscow and Kiev accused each other of bombing Europe’s largest nuclear site on Friday, bringing the reactor to a standstill as three grain ships left Ukraine under a deal to avoid food shortages.

Russian forces occupied the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in southern Ukraine from the first days of their invasion and Kyiv accused it of storing heavy weapons there. Moscow, in turn, accused Ukrainian forces of targeting the factory.

“Three strikes were recorded at the plant site near one of the power complexes where the nuclear reactor is located,” the operator of Ukraine’s state-run nuclear power plant Energoatum said in a statement.

There are risks of hydrogen leakage and radioactive spraying. Energoatom said the fire risk is high. No injuries were reported.

It said employees of the Russian nuclear company Rosatom left the plant in a hurry before the attacks, which damaged a power cable and forced one of the reactors to stop working.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his daily video address that Russia should “take responsibility for the fact of creating a threat to a nuclear plant.”

“Today, the occupiers have created another very dangerous situation for the whole of Europe: they have twice struck the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant. Any detonation of this site is a shameful crime .. an act of terrorism,” he said.

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said earlier that “the possible consequences of striking a working reactor are equivalent to the use of an atomic bomb.”

The Ministry of Defense in Moscow denied these reports.

“Ukrainian armed units carried out three artillery shelling on the territory of the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant and the city of Energodar,” it added.

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

Putin thanked Erdogan for helping to organize the resumption of Ukrainian grain shipments, the first of which is scheduled to arrive in Lebanon on Sunday, according to Ukraine’s embassy in Beirut.

The Sierra Leone-flagged bulk carrier Razzoni set sail from the Ukrainian port of Odessa on Monday, carrying 26,000 tons of corn — the first departure under a United Nations-backed deal, brokered by Turkey, to ease the global food crisis.

Kyiv said three other ships laden with grain set sail from Ukraine on Friday, bound for Turkey and markets in Ireland and Britain. There are 13 others waiting to leave.

Deliveries have already started. “I would like to thank you, for this and for the fact that at the same time an accompanying decision was taken on the continued supply of Russian food and fertilizers to world markets,” Putin told Erdogan in Sochi.

Asli Aydintasbas, a fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, wrote in a report last week that the war in Ukraine “restored Turkey’s self-image as a major geopolitical player” and gave Erdogan a higher profile than ever in recent years. .

The Turkish leader wants to translate this success into armistice talks in Istanbul between Putin and Zelensky.

Meanwhile, Moscow announced on Friday that it had imposed an entry ban on 62 Canadian citizens, including government officials.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said the list included figures known for their “malign activity in combating the ‘Russian world’ and our traditional values.”

In Ukraine, controversy erupted over accusations of violating international law and endangering civilians in its war against the Russian invasion.

Amnesty International released a report on Thursday listing incidents in 19 cities and towns where Ukrainian forces appear to have put civilians in harm’s way by establishing bases in residential areas.

President Zelensky equated the accusations with blaming the victim. In his evening address on Thursday, he said that the human rights organization sought to provide “a pardon for the terrorist state and shift responsibility from the aggressor to the victim.”

There is no requirement, even hypothetically, under which any Russian attack on Ukraine can be justified. Aggression against our state is unjustified, aggressive, terrorist aggression.”

“If someone makes a report in which it is assumed that the victim and the aggressor are somehow equal… this 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.

She said these tactics violate international humanitarian law and dismissed criticism of her report.

“The findings … were based on evidence gathered during extensive investigations, which were subject to the same stringent standards and due diligence procedures as all of Amnesty International’s work,” Secretary-General Agnes Callamard told AFP in comments via email.

On Friday, Zelensky’s office and local authorities reported overnight Russian shelling targeting the southern city of Mykolaiv with widely banned cluster bombs and heavy artillery, injuring 20 people, including a 14-year-old boy.

Mykolaiv is located on the main road to Odessa, the largest port in Ukraine on the Black Sea, and is the closest city to the southern front.

Several missiles hit Zaporozhye overnight and there was intense shelling of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city in the northeast.

Ukrainian forces launch a counterattack in the south, where they claim to have recaptured more than 50 villages formerly held by Moscow.

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