KYIV, Ukraine — Russia and Ukraine traded accusations Monday that each side is shelling Europe's biggest nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine. Russia claimed that Ukrainian shelling caused a power surge and fire and forced staff to lower output from two reactors, while Ukraine has blamed Russian troops for storing weapons there.
Nuclear experts have warned that more shelling of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station, which was captured by Russia early in the war, is fraught with danger. The Kremlin echoed that statement Monday, claiming that Ukrainian shelling could create “catastrophic” consequences for Europe.
Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, has warned that the way the plant was being run under Russian forces and the fighting going on around it are posing grave health and environmental threats.
Ukraine's military intelligence chief, Andriy Yusov, countered the Russian statements by saying his organization had received credible information from several sources that Russian forces have planted explosives at the Zaporizhzhia plant to head off an expected Ukrainian counteroffensive in the region. Previously, Ukrainian officials have said Russia is launching attacks from the plant and using its Ukrainian workers as human shields.
Before Sunday's shelling, the nuclear plant came under fire last week and each side accused the other of the attack.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Lt. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Monday that the Ukrainian attack a day earlier at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant caused a power surge and smoke erupted at its switch facility, triggering an emergency shutdown. Fire teams extinguished the fire, and the plant’s personnel lowered the output of reactors No. 5 and No. 6 to 500 megawatts, he said.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov urged Western powers to force Kyiv to stop attacking the plant.
“Shelling of the territory of the nuclear plant by the Ukrainian armed forces is highly dangerous,” Peskov said in a conference call with reporters. “It’s fraught with catastrophic consequences for vast territories, for the entire Europe.”
But Yusov, Ukraine’s military intelligence chief, said Monday: “We have seen the Russian shelling of the Ukrainian nuclear power plant.”
He added that, “If it’s not so, if it doesn’t conform to reality, the Russians can make a goodwill gesture and hand over control of the plant to an international commission and the IAEA, if not to the Ukrainian military.”
Yusov said the Russians used similar tactics at Ukraine's Chernobyl nuclear plant when they had occupied it early in the war.
“This is a strategy of terror and scorched earth used by the Russians ahead of an inevitable Ukrainian counteroffensives in the south,” he said.
On the high seas, meanwhile, the first of the ships to leave Ukraine under a deal to unblock grain supplies and stave off a global food crisis has arrived in Turkey. The Turkey-flagged Polarnet docked at the port of Derince in the Gulf of Izmit after setting off from the Ukrainian port of Chornomorsk on Friday laden with 12,000 tons of corn.
“This sends a message of hope to every family in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia: Ukraine won’t abandon you,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted. “If Russia sticks to its obligations, the ‘grain corridor’ will keep maintaining global food security.”
Yet Polarnet Captain Ahmet Yucel Alibeyler highlighted the risks faced by grain-carrying ships trying to cross the Black Sea.
“These were, of course, dangerous areas, corridors that had been cleared, demined,” he said.
On the front lines of the war, the Kremlin reasserted Monday that Russia will keep up its military attacks on Ukraine until it achieves its goals.
Ukraine’s presidential office said Monday that the Russian military shelled seven Ukrainian regions over the past 24 hours, killing five people and wounding 20 more.
Ukrainian forces struck Russian-controlled areas in the south of the country overnight, local officials said, again hitting a strategic bridge in the southern city of Kherson.
The Ukrainian mayor of Melitopol, a Russian-controlled city in the neighboring Zaporizhzhia region, said Ukrainian forces used U.S. HIMARS rocket launchers to shell several facilities where the Russian military was stationed. Mayor Ivan Fyodorov said on Telegram that some 100 Russian troops were killed. His claims could not be independently verified, and the Russian military did not immediately comment.
Kirill Stremousov, deputy head of the Moscow-appointed administration of the Kherson region, said Monday morning that Ukrainian shelling again damaged the Antonivskiy bridge over the Dnieper River.
The bridge, a key artery for Russian military supplies, has been closed in recent weeks because of earlier shelling and plans to reopen it on Wednesday were shelved due to the latest attack, Stremousov said.
Russian forces also kept shelling Nikopol, a city just across the Dnieper River from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Ukraine's presidential office said. Nikopol’s gas pipelines, plumbing and power lines are no longer functioning, and thousands of people are left without electricity.
A total of 12 ships have now been authorized to sail under the grain deal between Ukraine and Russia, which was brokered by Turkey and the United Nations — ten outbound and two headed for Ukraine. Some 322,000 metric tons of agricultural products have left Ukrainian ports, the bulk of it corn but also sunflower oil and soya.
Four ships that left Ukraine on Sunday are expected to anchor near Istanbul on Monday evening and be inspected on Tuesday to make sure they are carrying only food items south and no weapons into Ukraine.
But the grain deal remains far from plain sailing. The first cargo ship to leave Ukraine, the Sierra Leone-flagged Razoni, left Odessa on Aug. 1 heading for Lebanon with 26,000 metric tons of corn for chicken feed. But it has run into a business dispute and will no longer dock in Lebanon, the Tripoli port chief told The Associated Press on Monday.
Ukraine's embassy in Beirut tweeted Monday that the corn's final buyer in Lebanon refused to accept the cargo due to the delivery delay beyond a contractual limit and that the shipper was now looking for another buyer for the corn.
Kareem Chehayeb in Beirut, Mehmet Guzel in Derince, Turkey, and Andrew Wilks in Istanbul contributed.