February 25, 2024

(AFP) – Kyiv and Moscow blamed each other for hitting Europe’s largest nuclear facility on Friday, causing the reactor to shut down as three grain ships left Ukraine as part of a deal to avoid food shortages.

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

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

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

It said staff at Russia’s Rosatom nuclear company had rushed out of the plant before the attacks, which damaged a power cable and forced one of the reactors to shut down.

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

“Today, the invaders have created another extremely dangerous situation for all of Europe: they hit the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant twice. Any bombing of this location is a shameless crime, an act of terror,” he said.

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said earlier that “the possible consequences of hitting a functioning reactor are equivalent to using an atomic bomb.”

The Defense Ministry in Moscow denied the reports.

“Ukrainian armed units carried out three artillery strikes on the territory of the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant and the city of Ergondar,” it said.

The new flare-up 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 restart Ukrainian grain shipments, the first of which is due to arrive in Lebanon on Sunday, according to the Ukrainian embassy in Beirut.

The Sierra Leonean-flagged bulk carrier Razoni left the Ukrainian port of Odessa on Monday carrying 26,000 tonnes of corn — the first departure under a UN-backed deal brokered by Turkish aid to ease the global food crisis.

Kyiv said three more ships loaded with grain sailed from Ukraine on Friday, bound for Turkey and markets in Ireland and Britain. Another 13 are waiting to depart.

“Deliveries have already started. I want to thank you, both for this and for the fact that at the same time an accompanying decision was made on uninterrupted supplies 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 has “restored Turkey’s self-image as a key geopolitical player” and given Erdogan a higher profile than at any time in recent years. .

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

Moscow meanwhile announced on Friday that it had imposed entry bans on 62 Canadian citizens, including government officials.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said the list included persons known for “their malicious activity in the struggle against the ‘Russian world’ and our traditional values.”

In Ukraine, a controversy has flared over accusations that it is violating international law and endangering civilians in its fight against Russian invasion.

Amnesty International published a report on Thursday listing incidents in 19 cities and towns where Ukrainian forces appeared to harm civilians by setting up bases in residential areas.

President Zelensky equated the accusations with victim blaming. In his Thursday afternoon speech, he said the rights group sought to offer “amnesty (to) the terrorist state and shift responsibility from the aggressor to the victim.”

“There is no condition, even hypothetically, under which any Russian strike in Ukraine would be justified. The attack against our state is unprovoked, invasive and terrorist,” he added.

“If someone makes a report in which the victim and the attacker are supposed to be equal in some way … then that cannot be tolerated.”

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

She said the tactics violated international humanitarian law and rejected criticism of her report.

“The findings … were based on evidence gathered during extensive investigations, which were subject to the same strict standards and due diligence procedures as all Amnesty International’s work,” secretary-general Agnes Callamard told AFP in emailed comments. .

On Friday, Zelensky’s office and local authorities reported 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 on the main route to Odessa, Ukraine’s largest port on the Black Sea, and is the closest city to the southern front.

Several rockets hit the city of Zaporizhzhia overnight, and there was heavy shelling of Ukraine’s second city, Kharkiv, in the northeast.

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

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