Zaporizhzhia, Aug 6: Kyiv and Moscow accused each other of striking Europe's largest nuclear site on Friday, causing a reactor stoppage as three-grain ships departed Ukraine under a deal to avert food shortages.
Russian troops have occupied the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in southern Ukraine since the early days of their invasion and Kyiv has accused them of storing heavy weapons there. Moscow, in turn, has accused Ukrainian forces of targeting the plant.
"Three strikes were recorded on the site of the plant, near one of the power blocks where the nuclear reactor is located," Ukraine's state-run nuclear power plant operator Energoatom said in a statement. "There are risks of hydrogen leakage and radioactive spraying. The fire danger is high," Energoatom said. It did not report any casualties.
It said staff of Russian nuclear operator Rosatom had hastily left the plant before the attacks, which damaged a power cable and forced one of the reactors to stop working. Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky in his daily video address said Russia should "take responsibility for the very fact of creating a threat to a nuclear plant." "Today, the occupiers have created another extremely risky situation for all of Europe: they struck the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant twice. Any bombing of this site is a shameless crime, an act of terror," he said. The Ukrainian foreign ministry earlier said the "possible consequences of hitting a working reactor are equivalent to using an atomic bomb". The defence ministry in Moscow denied the reports. "Ukrainian armed units carried out three artillery strikes on the territory of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and the city of Energodar," it said. The new spike in tensions came as Russian President Vladimir Putin was meeting his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi. Putin thanked Erdogan for helping orchestrate the resumption of Ukrainian grain shipments, the first of which is due to arrive in Lebanon on Sunday according to Ukraine's embassy in Beirut. The Sierra Leone-flagged bulk carrier Razoni set sail from the Ukrainian port of Odessa on Monday carrying 26,000 tonnes of corn -- the first departure under an UN-backed deal, brokered with Turkish help, to ease the global food crisis.
Kyiv said another three ships loaded with grain set sail from Ukraine on Friday, heading for Turkey and markets in Ireland and Britain. A further 13 are waiting to depart. "Deliveries have already begun. 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.