ZAPORIZJIA, Ukraine—A third shipment of food left Ukrainian ports on Sunday, as explosions near Europe’s largest nuclear power plant raised the specter of war unleashing a nuclear disaster.
A convoy of four ships, carrying more than 161,000 metric tons of corn, sunflower oil and other goods, left the ports of Odessa on Sunday morning, according to Ukrainian authorities. It was the second multi-ship convoy to leave Ukraine in three days under a United Nations-backed deal with Russia aimed at easing a global hunger crisis amid rising global food prices caused in part by since 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 UN
A total of eight ships have left Odessa ports this month under the deal, which the UN says is proof that the deal can actually work.
In a sign that shipments may resume, the first inbound ship to sail to Ukraine under the deal arrived in Odessa, according to Ukrainian officials and ship tracking data.
“Our next step is to ensure his fitness [Ukrainian] ports to handle more than 100 ships per month,” tweeted Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov, who signed the deal last month.
Food in the shipments is vital to recipient countries, including Lebanon, while export revenue is vital to Ukraine’s struggling economy. Russia, meanwhile, is facing a drop in export earnings due to sanctions and restrictions on its currency.
Data released by Russia’s finance ministry last week showed that oil and gas revenues, which Russia uses to fund its military campaign in Ukraine, more than halved in July compared with April , falling from 1,797.7 million rubles in April to 770.5 rubles in July. . The ministry’s figures are presented in rubles, while oil and gas are priced globally in US dollars. The ruble traded around 83 rubles per dollar in early April, compared with 52 rubles per dollar in July.
Separately, fears were growing of hostilities in and around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, located in the Russian-controlled town of Enerhodar along the Dnipro River, which separates Russian and Ukrainian forces in the region.
Each side blamed the other for shelling near the factory.
For several weeks, according to Kyiv, Russian forces have fired rockets from the factory grounds at Ukrainian positions along the river. On Friday, the shelling knocked out a high-voltage power line and prompted staff at the plant to shut down one of its six reactors, according to the Ukrainian regulator. A Ukrainian official also accused Russia of planting mines on the factory’s grounds.
On Saturday, the head of the UN. The atomic agency condemned the military activity near the power station and pushed for his team to be given access to the plant.
“Any military firepower directed at or from the facilities would be tantamount to playing with fire, with potentially catastrophic consequences,” said Rafael Grossi of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
While Ukrainian authorities told the IAEA there was no damage to the reactors and no radiological release, Mr Grossi said damage elsewhere at the site was worrying. Ukraine is already the site of the world’s deadliest nuclear accident, following the 1986 meltdown at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.
Ukraine’s nuclear power regulator Energoatom said on Sunday that around 500 Russian soldiers were at the nuclear plant and that they fired rockets from the site again on Saturday night, striking near a spent nuclear fuel storage facility.
Three radiation monitors were damaged, the agency reported on Telegram, and about 800 square meters of window surfaces in factory buildings were damaged by shrapnel from explosions. An employee of the nuclear plant was treated for shrapnel injuries.
“This time a nuclear disaster was miraculously averted, but miracles can’t last forever,” the Telegram post said.
Energoatom also accused Russia on Twitter of trying to disconnect the nuclear plant from the power grid, which would plunge southern Ukraine into darkness.
In a speech overnight, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the threat to the nuclear plant justified sanctions against the entire Russian nuclear industry.
“The Russian bombing of the nuclear plant is one of the most dangerous crimes against Ukrainians and all Europeans,” Mr Zelensky said.
Authorities in Energodar, a municipality in the western part of Zaporozhye region, told Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency that fragments of rockets they said were fired overnight by Ukrainian forces landed no more than 400 meters from the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant. The report could not be independently verified.
The incident is the latest in a series at the country’s nuclear facilities, including an earlier fire in Zaporizhzhia caused by a Russian missile and the loss of power at the Chernobyl site, which Ukraine regained control of after Moscow’s withdrawal of troops from northern Ukraine in March.
The tension surrounding the nuclear plant comes as Ukrainian officials say they are preparing for a full-scale offensive to retake Kherson, the southern regional capital seized by Russian forces in the early days of the war. Moscow is working to strengthen its defense positions in the south, according to the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington think tank, as it continues its push to capture the rest of Ukrainian territory in the eastern Donetsk region.
A number of senior Russian military officials have been removed since the beginning of the war as a result of the poor performance of the armed forces in Ukraine, according to the UK Ministry of Defence. The commanders of Russia’s eastern and western military regions have likely lost their commands, the ministry wrote, while at least 10 Russian generals have been killed on the battlefield.
“The cumulative effect on command consistency is likely to contribute to Russian tactical and operational difficulties,” the ministry wrote.
—Ann M. Simmons in Moscow contributed to this article.
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