June 6, 2023

(AFP) – Kyiv and Moscow accused each other on Friday of attacking Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, shutting down reactors as three grain ships left Ukraine under a deal to avoid food shortages.

Since the early days of the invasion, Russian forces have occupied the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine, where Kyiv accuses them of storing heavy weapons. Moscow, in turn, accused the Ukrainian army of targeting the plant.

“Three strikes were recorded at the plant site near a power generation area where the nuclear reactors are located,” Energoatom, the operator of Ukraine’s state-run nuclear power plant, said in a statement.

“There is a risk of hydrogen leakage and radioactive spray. The fire hazard is high,” Energoatom said. It did not report any casualties.

It said workers at Russian nuclear operator Rosatom rushed out of the plant ahead of the attack, which damaged cables and forced one of the reactors to stop working.

In his daily video address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russia should be “responsible for the fact that it poses a threat to nuclear power plants”.

“Today, the occupiers have created another extremely dangerous situation for the whole of Europe: they have twice attacked the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant. Any bombing of this site is a shameless crime, an act of terror,” he said.

Ukraine’s foreign ministry said earlier that “impacting a working reactor could have consequences equivalent to the use of an atomic bomb”.

The Moscow Defense Ministry denied the reports.

“The Ukrainian armed forces carried out three shellings on the territory of the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant and the city of Erner Godard,” it said.

Tensions escalated again as Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi.

Putin thanked Erdogan for helping to arrange the resumption of Ukrainian grain shipments, with the first shipments due to arrive in Lebanon on Sunday, according to the Ukrainian embassy in Beirut.

The Sierra Leone-flagged bulk carrier Razoni set sail from the Ukrainian port of Odessa on Monday with 26,000 tonnes of corn – the first of a UN-backed deal to ease the global food crisis with help from Turkey.

On Friday, three other grain-laden ships set sail from Ukraine for Turkey and markets in Ireland and the U.K., Kyiv said. Another 13 people are waiting to leave.

“The delivery has started. I want to thank you, thank you, and at the same time thank you for taking a decision on the uninterrupted supply of Russian food and fertilizers to the world market,” Putin told Erdogan in Sochi.

The war in Ukraine “restores Turkey’s self-image as a key geopolitical player” and brings Erdogan’s profile to the fore, European Council on Foreign Relations member Asli Eddin Tasbas wrote in a report last week. higher than at any time in recent years. .

The Turkish leader hopes to translate success into truce talks between Putin and Zelensky in Istanbul.

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

Russia’s foreign ministry said the list included figures known for “their malign activities in the fight against the ‘Russian world’ and our traditional values.”

In Ukraine, it sparked a controversy over accusations that it violated international law and endangered civilians in its fight against Russian aggression.

Amnesty International released a report on Thursday listing incidents in 19 towns where Ukrainian forces appear to have established bases in residential areas, leaving civilians harmed.

President Zelensky equated the accusations with blaming the victims. In his evening speech on Thursday, he said human rights groups were trying to “pardon terrorist states and shift responsibility from aggressors to victims”.

“There are no conditions, even hypothetical, that any Russian strike on Ukraine is justified. The aggression against our country is unprovoked, aggressive and terrorist,” he added.

“If someone were to report that the victim and the perpetrator were in some way equal…then that would not be tolerated.”

Amnesty International said a four-month investigation found that the Ukrainian military had established bases in schools and hospitals and carried out attacks from populated areas.

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

“The findings … are based on evidence gathered in extensive investigations that follow the same rigorous standards and due diligence procedures as all Amnesty International work,” Secretary Agnes Callamard commented by email told AFP.

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

Located on the main route to Odessa, Ukraine’s largest port on the Black Sea, Mykolev was the closest city to the southern front.

Overnight, several missiles hit the city of Zaporozhye, and Kharkiv, the second-largest city in northeastern Ukraine, was heavily bombed.

Ukrainian troops are fighting a counteroffensive in the south, claiming they have recaptured more than 50 villages previously controlled by Moscow.

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