Shift in war front seen as grain leaves Ukraine, power plant hit

Kyiv, Ukraine –

Six more ships carrying agricultural cargo held up by the war in Ukraine were cleared on Sunday to leave the country’s Black Sea coast as analysts warned Russia was moving troops and equipment toward southern port cities to prevent a counteroffensive. ukrainian

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

The loaded ships were authorized from Chornomorsk and Odessa, according to the Joint Coordination Center, which oversees an international deal aimed at moving some 20 million tons of grain out of Ukraine to feed millions of hungry people in Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia.

Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the United Nations signed agreements last month to create a 111-nautical-mile sea corridor that would allow cargo ships to travel safely out of ports that Russia’s military had blockaded and through waters that the Ukrainian army had mined. Implementation of the deal, which is in place for four months, has made slow progress since the first ship was embarked on Aug. 1.

Four of the carriers authorized on Sunday to leave Ukraine were transporting more than 219,000 tons of corn. The fifth transported more than 6,600 tons of sunflower oil and the sixth 11,000 tons of soybeans, reported the Joint Coordination Center.

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

However, the ship that left Ukraine last Monday with great fanfare as the first under the grain export deal was scheduled to arrive in Lebanon 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 about a grain export deal, citing suspicions that Moscow would try to exploit the shipping activity to send massive troops offshore or send long-range missiles from the Black Sea, as it has done several times. during the war.

The agreements require ships to leave Ukraine under military escort and undergo inspections to make sure they are only carrying grain, fertilizer or food and not other basic goods. Incoming cargo ships are checked to make sure they are not carrying weapons.

In an analysis over the weekend, Britain’s Defense Ministry said the Russian invasion that began on February 24 “is about to enter a new phase” in which the fighting would shift to a front line of roughly 350 kilometers (217 mi) that would extend from near the city. from Zaporizhzhia to Russian-occupied Kherson.

That area includes the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which was attacked on Saturday night. 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 one worker was injured. Russian news agencies, citing the plant’s separatist administration, said Ukrainian forces fired those shells.

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

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

During the last four months of the war, Russia has focused on capturing the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Moscow separatists have controlled part of the territory as self-proclaimed republics for eight years. Russian forces have gradually advanced into the region as they launch missile and rocket attacks to restrict the movements of Ukrainian fighters elsewhere.

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

Kherson came under Russian control early in the war, and Ukrainian officials promised to retake it. It is just 227 kilometers (141 miles) from Odessa, where Ukraine’s largest port is located, so the escalation of the conflict there could have repercussions on the international grain deal.

The city of Mykolaiv, a shipbuilding hub 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 was attacked early on Sunday.

Over the past day, five civilians have been shot dead by Russians and separatists in towns in the Donetsk region, the part of Donbas still under Ukrainian control, regional governor Serhiy Haidai said.

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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