Zaporizhia, Ukraine – A third shipment of food products left Ukrainian ports on Sunday, as explosions near Europe’s largest nuclear power plant raised the specter of war unleashed on nuclear catastrophe.
A convoy of four ships carrying more than 161,000 metric tons of corn, sunflower oil and other commodities left Odessa ports on Sunday morning, according to Ukrainian authorities. It was the second multi-ship flotilla to leave Ukraine in three days under a UN-backed agreement with Russia, which aims to alleviate the global hunger crisis amid soaring global food prices caused in part by Russia’s attack on Ukraine.
The war trapped millions of tons of grain and other food products in the country. The agreement signed last month was the result of months of negotiations brokered by Turkey and the United Nations
A total of eight ships left Odessa ports this month under the agreement, in what the United Nations says is evidence that the agreement can indeed work.
In a sign that shipments may be able to continue, the first incoming ship sailing to Ukraine under the agreement has arrived in Odessa, according to Ukrainian officials and ship-tracking data.
“Our next step is to ensure the ability of [Ukrainian] “Ports to handle more than 100 ships per month,” Ukraine’s Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kobrakov, who signed the agreement last month, said on Twitter.
Food in the shipments is vital to recipient countries, including Lebanon, while export earnings are critical to Ukraine’s struggling economy. Meanwhile, Russia faces a drop in export earnings due to sanctions and restrictions on its currency.
Data published by the Russian Finance Ministry last week shows that oil and gas revenues, which Russia uses to finance its military campaign in Ukraine, more than halved in July compared to April, falling from 1,797.7 million rubles in April to 770.5 rubles in July. . The ministry’s data is presented in rubles, while oil and gas are priced globally in US dollars. The ruble was trading at around 83 rubles to the dollar at the beginning of April, compared to 52 rubles to the dollar in July.
Separately, fear was mounting about hostilities in and around the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, located in the Russian-controlled city of Enerhodar along the Dnipro River, which separates Russian and Ukrainian forces in the region.
Each side blamed the other for bombing near the factory.
Over a period of several weeks, according to Kev, Russian forces fired missiles from the factory grounds at Ukrainian positions across the river. Friday’s bombing cut off a high-voltage power line and prompted plant workers to shut down one of its six reactors, according to the Ukrainian regulator. A Ukrainian official also accused Russia of laying mines on the factory grounds.
On Saturday, the head of the United Nations. The atomic agency condemned military activity near the power plant and lobbied for his team to be allowed into the plant.
“Any military firepower directed at or from the facility would be a game of fire, with potentially catastrophic consequences,” said Rafael Grossi of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
While Ukrainian authorities informed the International Atomic Energy Agency that there was no damage to the reactors and no radioactive release, Mr Grossi said damage elsewhere at the site was worrying. Ukraine is already the site of the world’s most catastrophic nuclear accident, after the meltdown at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in 1986.
Ukraine’s nuclear organization Energoatom said on Sunday that nearly 500 Russian soldiers were at the nuclear power plant and that they again fired missiles from the site Saturday night, bombing near a spent nuclear fuel storage facility.
The agency said on Telegram that three radiation monitoring devices were damaged, and about 800 square meters of window surfaces in the factory buildings were damaged by shrapnel from the explosions. A nuclear plant employee was hospitalized with shrapnel.
“This time a nuclear catastrophe was miraculously averted, but miracles cannot last forever,” the post on Telegram said.
Energoatom also accused Russia on Twitter of trying to disconnect the nuclear plant from the power grid, which could plunge southern Ukraine into darkness.
In a speech last night, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that the threat to the nuclear power plant justified the imposition of sanctions on the entire Russian nuclear industry.
“The Russian bombing of the nuclear plant is one of the most serious crimes against Ukrainians and all Europeans,” said Mr. Zelensky.
The authorities in Energodar, a municipality in the western part of the Zaporozhye region, told RIA Novosti news agency that fragments of missiles said to have been fired by Ukrainian forces last night fell no closer than 400 meters from the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant. The report cannot be independently verified.
The incident is the latest in a series at the country’s nuclear facilities, including an earlier fire in Zaporizhzhya caused by a Russian missile and loss of power at the Chernobyl site, which Ukraine retook after Moscow withdrew its forces from northern Ukraine in March.
Tensions around the nuclear plant come as Ukrainian officials say they are preparing for a large-scale offensive to retake Kherson, the southern regional capital captured by Russian forces in the early days of the war. Moscow is strengthening its defensive positions in the south, according to the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington think tank, while continuing its push to seize the remaining Ukrainian-controlled territory in the eastern Donetsk region.
A number of senior Russian military officials have been fired since the start of the war as a result of the poor performance of the armed forces in Ukraine, according to Britain’s Ministry of Defense. The ministry wrote that the commanders of the eastern and western military districts of Russia likely lost their orders, while at least 10 Russian generals were killed on the battlefield.
“The cumulative effect on command consistency is likely to contribute to Russia’s tactical and operational difficulties,” the ministry wrote.
—Anne M. Simmons in Moscow contributed to this article.
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