As part of a grain deal between Kyiv and Moscow, three additional ships carrying thousands of tons of corn left Ukrainian ports on Friday. Both governments accused the other of sabotaging a critical Ukrainian nuclear power facility.
The largest nuclear power plant in Europe, Zaporizhzhia, was struck by Russian artillery, according to Energoatom, Ukraine's state-owned nuclear power business.
Energoatom said in a statement, "Three strikes were recorded on the site of the plant, near one of the power blocks where the nuclear reactor is located,"
It was stated that there were no indications that the damage resulted in a radioactive release.
The Russian Defense Ministry stated that Ukrainian forces caused damage to the plant.
The statement reads, "Ukrainian armed units carried out three artillery strikes on the territory of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and the city of Enerhodar,"
"Fortunately, the Ukrainian shells did not hit the oil and fuel facility and the oxygen plant nearby, thus avoiding a larger fire and a possible radiation accident," the report stated.
Since March, Russian troops have occupied the factory in southern Ukraine.
On Monday, United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused Russia of using the plant as a shield for its military.
According to Reuters, an official from the Russian-backed government in Enerhodar stated earlier this week that Ukrainian soldiers had repeatedly assaulted the plant.
In his daily video message, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy stated on Friday that Russia was committed to acts of "nuclear terrorism."
"Russia must take responsibility for the very fact of creating a threat to a nuclear plant," he said.
The departure of three ships carrying thousands of metric tons of corn from Ukrainian ports on Friday hints that a pact to allow exports of Ukrainian grain stalled since Russia's invasion of its neighbor in February is beginning to take effect.
The ships set out towards Ireland, Great Britain, and Turkey. Another boat, the Razoni, sailed from Ukraine to Lebanon on Monday, bringing the first supply of grain across the Black Sea since the beginning of the war.
Friday in New York, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said that another ship was on its route to the Ukrainian port of Chornomorsk to pick up a shipment of grain.
The United Nations and Turkey recently negotiated the Black Sea Grain Initiative to enable Ukraine to export approximately 22 million metric tons of grain now stored in silos and ports. The agreement aims to alleviate a global food crisis characterized by rising prices and food shortages in certain places.
Millions of people in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia rely on wheat, corn, barley, and sunflower oil from Ukraine and Russia.
Taras Vysotsky, the first deputy minister of agriculture for Ukraine, stated that the nation might begin exporting wheat from this year's harvest through its seaports as early as next month. According to Reuters, Vysotsky said that Ukraine aimed to raise grain shipments along the route from 1 million metric tons this month to between 3 million and 3.5 million metric tons per month within a few months.
The program will be 120 days, concluding in late November.
The backlog of roughly 30 ships stranded in the southern ports of Ukraine due to the fighting has entered its sixth month. The Joint Coordination Center, or JCC, established by the Black Sea Grain Initiative, states that the ships must depart so that other vessels can access the ports and collect food for delivery to global markets.
Before proceeding to their destinations, the crews and cargo of the ships that set sail on Friday will be inspected at the JCC inspection area in Turkish territorial waters.
The JCC said that based on its experience with the first ship that departed on Monday, it is currently evaluating other vessels' outward and inbound movement in the safe corridor.
Erdogan in Russia
Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday to discuss the grain deal, the chances for discussions on halting hostilities in Ukraine, and the situation in Syria.
In a statement issued after four hours of discussions in Sochi, Putin and Erdogan underscored "the necessity of a complete fulfillment" of the grain agreement.
In addition, they stated that "sincere, frank and trusting ties between Russia and Turkey" are essential for global stability.
Other advancements The Biden administration prepared its second package of security aid for Ukraine on Friday. According to Reuters, the package is anticipated to be around $1 billion, making it one of the largest U.S. military aid packages to Ukraine to date.
Thursday, Zelenskyy criticized the human rights organization Amnesty International for a study claiming that Ukrainian soldiers placed people in danger by building bases and operating weapons systems in densely populated residential areas.
Sadly, the report "unfortunately tries to amnesty the terrorist state and shift the responsibility from the aggressor to the victim," Zelenskyy stated. "Under no circumstances, even hypothetically, could a Russian attack on Ukraine be deemed justifiable. Unprovoked aggression against our nation is invasive and blatantly terroristic."
Oksana Pokalchuk, the head of Amnesty International's Ukrainian office, disagreed with the study. In Facebook posts on Thursday, she stated that the Ukrainian office "was not involved in the preparation or writing" of the report and attempted to block its publication.
In a Facebook post on Friday, Pokalchuk announced her resignation from Amnesty International.
According to Amnesty International, its experts analyzed Russian strikes in the Kharkiv, Donbas, and Mykolaiv regions of Ukraine between April and July. According to the organization, "researchers found evidence of Ukrainian forces launching strikes from within populated residential areas as well as basing themselves in civilian buildings in 19 towns and villages in the regions."