War front shifts as grain leaves Ukraine; plant shot

Kyiv, Ukraine (AP) —

Four other vessels carrying agricultural products cargo blocked by war in Ukraine received permission to leave the country’s Black Sea coast on Sunday as analysts warned that Russia was moving troops and equipment towards southern port cities to avoid a Ukrainian counteroffensive.

Ukraine and Russia have also accused each other of bombing Europe’s largest nuclear power plant.

The loaded ships were allowed to leave Chornomorsk and Odessa, according to the Joint Coordination Center, which oversees an international deal to get some 20 million tonnes of grain out of Ukraine to feed millions of people. go hungry in africathe Middle East and parts of Asia.

Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the United Nations signed the agreements last month to create an 111-nautical-mile maritime corridor that would allow cargo ships to travel safely out of ports that the Russian military had blocked and to through the waters that the Ukrainian army had exploited. Implementation of the agreement, which has been in place for four months, has progressed slowly since the first ship embarked on August 1.

Three of the transporters authorized to leave Ukraine on Sunday were carrying more than 171,000 tons of maize. The fourth was carrying more than 6,600 tonnes of sunflower oil, the Joint Coordination Center said.

Three other cargo ships that departed on Friday passed their inspections and received clearance on Sunday to cross Turkey’s Bosphorus Strait en route to their final destinations, the Center said.

However, the ship which left Ukraine last Monday to great fanfare as the first under the grain export deal saw its scheduled arrival in Lebanon delayed on Sunday, according to a Lebanese Cabinet minister and the Ukrainian embassy. The cause of the delay was not immediately clear.

Ukrainian officials were initially skeptical of a grain export deal, citing suspicions that Moscow would try to exploit maritime activity to mass troops offshore or send long-range missiles from the Black Sea, as it did so several times during the war.

The agreements provide for ships to leave Ukraine under military escort and submit to inspections to ensure that they are only carrying grain, fertilizer or food and no other goods. Incoming cargo ships are screened to ensure they are not carrying weapons.

In an analysis over the weekend, the British Ministry of Defense said the Russian invasion which began on February 24 “is about to enter a new phase” in which the fighting would move to a line of front of about 350 kilometers (217 miles) extending near the city. from Zaporizhzhia to Russian-occupied Kherson.

This area includes the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant which came under fire on Saturday evening. Each side blamed the other for the attack.

Ukraine’s nuclear power plant operator, Energoatom, said Russian shelling damaged three radiation monitors around the spent nuclear fuel storage facility and a worker was injured. Russian news agencies, citing the plant’s separatist administration, said Ukrainian forces fired the shells.

Russian forces have occupied the plant for months. Russian soldiers took refuge in bunkers ahead of Saturday’s attack, according to Energoatom.

Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, recently warned that the way the plant was run and the fighting going on around it posed serious threats to health and the environment.

In the last four months of the war, Russia has focused on capturing the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Moscow separatists have controlled some territories as self-declared republics for eight years. . Russian forces gradually advanced in the area while launching missile and rocket attacks to limit the movement of Ukrainian fighters elsewhere.

According to the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, the Russians “continue to accumulate large amounts of military hardware” in a town across the Dnieper from Russian-held Kherson. Citing local Ukrainian officials, he said preparations appeared designed to defend logistical routes to the city and establish defensive positions on the left bank of the river.

Kherson came under Russian control at the start of the war, and Ukrainian officials vowed to retake it. It is just 227 kilometers (141 miles) from Odessa, home to Ukraine’s biggest port, so escalating conflict there could have repercussions for the international grain deal.

The city of Mykolaiv, a shipbuilding center that Russian forces bombard daily, is even closer to Odessa. Mykolaiv region governor Vitaliy Kim said an industrial facility on the outskirts of the regional capital came under fire early on Sunday.

Over the past day, five civilians have been killed by Russian and separatist fire on towns in the Donetsk region, the part of Donbass still under Ukrainian control, regional governor Serhiy Haidai reported.

He and Ukrainian government officials have repeatedly urged civilians to evacuate.

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Andrew Wilks contributed reporting from Istanbul.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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