By MEHMET GÜZEL and ANDREW WILKES, The Associated Press
DERINCE, Turkey (AP) — A Turkish-flagged ship that was among several ships that left Ukraine under a deal to unblock grain supplies and avert a potential global food crisis was the first to arrive at its destination in Turkey on Monday. with Russia again accusing Ukraine of shelling Europe’s largest nuclear power plant.
The Polarnet docked at the port of Derince in the Gulf of Izmit after departing from Chernomorsk on August 5, loaded with 12,000 tons of corn.
“This sends a message of hope to every family in the Middle East, Africa and Asia: Ukraine will not abandon you,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted. “If Russia adheres to its obligations, the ‘grain corridor’ will continue to support global food security.
Polarnet captain Ahmet Yucel Alibayler highlighted the risks faced by the three grain ships that left Ukraine.
“These were of course danger zones, corridors that were cleared, demined,” he said, adding that the convoy was escorted by a port pilot ship as it left the risky waters.
A total of 12 ships have already received permission to sail under the grain deal between Ukraine and Russia brokered by Turkey and the UN – ten departing and two for Ukraine. About 322,000 metric tons of agricultural products have left Ukrainian ports, most of them corn, but also sunflower oil and soybeans.
Four ships that left Ukraine on Sunday are expected to drop anchor near Istanbul on Monday evening, the Turkish Defense Ministry said. They will be examined on Tuesday.
Ships leaving Ukraine are inspected by officials from the three countries and the United Nations to ensure they are carrying only grain, fertilizer or food and not other goods. Arriving ships are screened to ensure they are not carrying weapons.
But the grain deal remains far from a simple deal. The first ship to leave Ukraine, the Sierra Leone-flagged Razoni, which left on Aug. 1, will no longer dock in Lebanon and will change course, Tripoli’s port director told The Associated Press on Monday.
The Sierra Leonean-flagged ship Razoni carrying 26,000 metric tons of chicken feed corn, which left Odessa last Monday, was due to dock at the northern Lebanese port on Sunday. But according to Marine Traffic, it changed its status on Saturday to “on order,” meaning the vessel was waiting for someone to buy the corn.
“All I know is that the ship is no longer coming here,” said Tripoli port director Ahmad Tamer.
The Ukrainian embassy in Beirut tweeted on Monday that the final buyer of the corn in Lebanon had refused to accept the shipment due to delays in delivery beyond the agreed limit and that the shipper was now looking for another buyer.
The shipment was a glimmer of hope for the economically battered small Mediterranean nation, which was also suffering from a food security crisis. Soaring food inflation, wheat shortages and bread lines have crippled the population, about half of which is food insecure, according to the UN’s World Food Programme.
Meanwhile, Moscow again accused Ukrainian forces of shelling the site of the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant from Marganets on the opposite bank of the Dnieper River on Sunday.
The station, occupied for months by Russian forces, also came under fire late Saturday, with each side blaming the other for the attack.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Lt. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said in a statement Monday that the Ukrainian attack a day earlier had caused a power surge and an eruption of smoke in the power plant’s switchgear, causing an emergency shutdown. Fire crews extinguished the fire and plant personnel reduced the power of reactors No. 5 and No. 6 to 500 megawatts, Konashenkov said.
Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, recently warned that the way the plant is being run and the battles that are taking place around it pose serious threats to health and the environment.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called on Western powers to force Kyiv to stop the attack on the plant.
“The shelling of the territory of the nuclear power plant by the Ukrainian armed forces is very dangerous,” Peskov said in a conference call with reporters. “This is fraught with catastrophic consequences for vast territories, for the whole of Europe.
But Ukrainian military intelligence chief Andriy Yusov said his organization had received credible information from several sources that the Russians planted explosives at the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant to prevent an expected Ukrainian counteroffensive in the region.
“We saw the Russian shelling of the Ukrainian nuclear power plant,” Yusov said. “If it is not true, the Russians can make a gesture of goodwill and hand over control of the headquarters to an international commission and the IAEA, if not to the Ukrainian army.”
Yusov said the Russians used similar tactics at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant when they occupied it.
“This is a strategy of terror and scorched earth used by the Russians before the inevitable Ukrainian counteroffensive to the south,” he said.
The Kremlin also confirmed that Russia would continue military action in Ukraine until it achieved its goals, saying Ukraine had shown no interest in talks since March.
Asked whether plans to hold referendums in Russian-occupied regions of southeastern Ukraine would scuttle any talks, Peskov said those votes were being organized by local authorities, not Moscow.
Ukrainian forces struck Russian-held areas in the south of the country overnight, according to Ukrainian and Russian officials, including again striking a strategic bridge in the southern city of Kherson.
The Ukrainian mayor of Melitopol, a Russian-controlled city in neighboring Zaporozhye Oblast, said Ukrainian forces fired at several facilities where Russian troops were stationed with US-supplied HIMARS missile launchers. Mayor Ivan Fedorov said on Telegram that around 100 Russian soldiers had been killed. His claims could not be independently verified and the Russian military did not immediately comment.
Kirill Stremousov, deputy head of the Moscow-appointed Kherson Oblast administration, said on Monday morning that Ukrainian shelling had again damaged the Antoniv bridge over the Dnieper River.
The bridge, a key artery for Russian military supplies in the region, had been closed in recent weeks due to earlier shelling, and plans to reopen it to traffic on Wednesday had been delayed by the latest attack, Stremousov said.
Ukraine’s presidential office said on Monday that the Russian military had shelled seven Ukrainian regions in the past 24 hours, killing five people and wounding 20 others.
Russian forces are also continuing to shell Nikopol, a city just across the Dnieper River from the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant, the presidential office said. The gas, water, and power lines in Nikopol are no longer functional, and thousands of people remain without electricity.
Associated Press writer Karim Chehayeb in Beirut contributed.