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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has added his voice to the claim and counter-claim over which side shelled areas around and at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant.
"Today, the occupiers created another extremely risky situation for everyone in Europe — they fired at the Zaporizhzhia NPP, twice in one day," Zelensky said in his daily video message.
"This is the largest nuclear power plant on our continent. And any shelling of this facility is an open, brazen crime, an act of terror," he added.
The Russian Defense Ministry has denied accusations made by the Ukrainian state nuclear company that Russian forces shelled the territory of the nuclear power plant — blaming instead the Ukrainians.
The power plant was taken over by Russian forces early in March, as was the nearby city of Enerhodar.
"This is an argument in favor of applying tough sanctions against the entire Russian nuclear industry — from Rosatom to all related companies and individuals. This is purely a matter of safety. The one who creates nuclear threats to other nations is definitely not capable of using nuclear technologies safely," Zelensky said.
Oksana Pokalchuk, Head of Amnesty International Ukraine, has announced her resignation from the organization over its report criticizing the Ukrainian military for putting the lives of civilians at risk by using civilian facilities such as schools during the conflict.
In a statement on Facebook, Pokalchuk, said she had tried to dissuade the organization from publishing the report as it appeared.
"This is another loss that the war brought me.... Everything crashed against the wall of bureaucracy and a deaf language barrier," the post said. "If you don't live in a country occupied by invaders that are tearing it to pieces, you probably don't understand what it's like to condemn an army of defenders."
Pokalchuk said, "Since the beginning of the full-scale aggression, we have not stopped emphasizing the violations of human rights and international humanitarian law committed by Russia, the aggressor country. We thoroughly document these violations, and they will form the basis of numerous legal proceedings and help bring those responsible to justice."
Referring to the Amnesty report, she said the report "cannot fail to contain information about the other side of the war, about the one who started this war.... The organization created material that sounded like support for Russian narratives. Seeking to protect civilians, this research instead became a tool of Russian propaganda."
In its report, Amnesty said Ukrainian forces had put civilians in harm’s way by establishing bases and operating weapons systems in populated residential areas, including in schools and hospitals, as they repelled the Russian invasion that began in February.
Such tactics violate international humanitarian law, Amnesty said.
“We have documented a pattern of Ukrainian forces putting civilians at risk and violating the laws of war when they operate in populated areas,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s secretary general.
“Being in a defensive position does not exempt the Ukrainian military from respecting international humanitarian law," Callamard said.
Ukrainian officials said Russian forces have shelled areas around the nuclear power plant near the town of Enerhodar in the Zaporizhzhia region.
The Ukrainian nuclear power operator, Energoatom, said Russian forces bombed a power station, and the town is now largely without power.
"The water intake station is also not working — there is no water in the city," Energoatom said on Telegram.
Energoatom also claimed that Russian rocket fire had hit the territory of the nuclear power plant.
"Three hits were recorded directly at the site of the station," Energoatom said, claiming that one was "near one of the power units where the nuclear reactor is located."
"Fire danger is high. Currently, there are no victims," it said.
It's not possible to confirm Energoatom's claims of damage at or near the plant, which occupies a large site. Much of the recent Russian fire in the area has originated from near the plant and been aimed at the Ukrainian-held city of Nikopol across the Dnipro river.
Energoatom said: "The Ukrainian staff of the Zaporizhzhia NPP is on-site and performs all measures to ensure nuclear and radiation safety and eliminates the consequences of damage."
Earlier on Friday, the British Ministry of Defense echoed accusations from the Ukrainian military that Russian forces are using the nuclear power plant to fire at military positions across the river, but other Western officials have downplayed the danger.
A complex situation: International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Grossi told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the situation at the plant was “completely out of control.”
Russia seized the plant, which is the largest nuclear plant in Europe, in the early days of the war on March 5. A week later, on March 12, a team of officials and technicians from Russia's state nuclear agency, Rosatom, arrived on site to help manage the plant and help with repairs, according to Energoatom.
The situation at the plant has remained complex ever since, with Ukrainian and Russian staff working alongside each other. Communications between the plant and the IAEA has been intermittent.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have agreed that Turkey will pay Russia in rubles for partial gas supplies.
The bilateral talks, held in Sochi, lasted over four hours on Friday.
“In the process of negotiations, the presidents agreed that they would start payment in rubles for partial gas supplies,” Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak told journalists after the meeting.
“We are talking about the transition to national currencies, and at the first stage, part of the supplies will be paid in Russian rubles. And this is really a new stage, new opportunities, including for the development of our monetary and financial relations,” Novak said.
Novak also said the two presidents reached agreements on establishing the financial banking bloc “to enable commercial companies, Russian citizens, to pay during tourist trips and exchange money.”
Putin and Erdoğan agreed to hold the next meeting of the Russian-Turkish High-Level Cooperation Council in Turkey.
President Joe Biden said Friday that he’s hopeful about WNBA star Brittney Griner’s case, following indications that Russia is ready to discuss a prisoner exchange with the United States.
“I’m hopeful. We’re working hard,” Biden told reporters outside the White House after a bill signing.
Griner this week was convicted of deliberately smuggling drugs into Russia and sentenced to nine years of jail time. At trial, Griner testified she has a doctor's prescription for medical cannabis and had no intention of bringing the drug into Russia.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said earlier on Friday that Russia was ready to discuss an exchange of prisoners with the US through a diplomatic channel agreed by Putin and Biden, according to Russian state news agency RIA Novosti.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday that the United States will pursue Russia’s latest offer to discuss a prisoner exchange at the presidential level involving Griner.
Ukraine is “changing” its policy toward Africa as it seeks to expand ties with African countries, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced on Thursday.
“We in Ukraine are changing this policy. … We want to expand our ties. It is very important for us. We also strive to find different areas for investment,” Zelensky said.
Zelensky also added that Ukraine was “ready to be a guarantor of food security in African countries.”
“I believe that the African continent is an underestimated territory, underestimated countries and the potential of people. Because I know how underestimated our region and our people are,” Zelensky said.
“And now, due to the blocking of the ports, the whole world saw how much Ukraine has done and how much it can do,” he added.
Countries like Turkey, Egypt, Somalia, Congo and Tanzania are some of the most dependent on Ukrainian and Russian wheat, and nations like Eritrea bought the grain exclusively from both countries in 2021.
The Ukrainian president said his country had already started changing its approach to Africa before the start of the Russian invasion and had since appointed a special representative of Ukraine for the Middle East and Africa.
He said previous Ukrainian diplomacy had “forgotten” about Africa, and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Dmytro Kuleba would visit African countries “in the autumn.”
Still, even as the UN-brokered agreement to lift the Russian blockade on Black Sea ports has eased grain prices, experts say the belated shipments from Ukraine are no quick fix to the food crisis, accelerated by years of pandemic-related disruptions, the climate crisis, conflict, food export restrictions and spiraling costs.
Read more on food insecurity in Africa and around the globe here.
As the Ukrainian harvest gathers pace, Agrarian Policy Minister Mykola Solskyi said that the country can unload its grain storage elevators if the Black Sea ports work at least at half capacity.
"If the military situation in the region is stable and everyone abides by the agreements, I am sure that it is possible," Solskyi said.
"In recent days, we have raised our forecast for the harvest," Solskyi said. "We will be able to collect 65-67 million tonnes. We will have to export about 50 million tonnes either as grain or in processed products such as meal and oil."
"We have about 18-19 million tonnes left over from last season [2021-22]," he said.
Ukraine needs to export about 70 million tonnes (metric tons) of products until next year's harvest.
"This is about 5 million tonnes per month. The number is large, but it is common for Ukrainian business. Last month, without seaports, we increased exports to 3 million tons per month," Solskyi said.
The grain traffic through the Black Sea is gradually gathering pace.
Minister of Infrastructure of Ukraine Oleksandr Kubrakov said Friday that a bulk freighter coming to Ukraine to collect grain had passed inspection at the Joint Coordination Center in Istanbul, and it is expected to arrive Saturday.
Vasyl Bodnar, Ukraine's ambassador to Turkey, discussed ships on their way to Turkey at a news conference Friday.
"We will see how quickly these three ships pass, and we will understand whether we can increase the volume of transportation to 3 million tonnes per month. If three ships are currently carrying 57,000 tons, then in 30 days, we can easily achieve this result, or even more," he said.
The three bulk carriers left Ukrainian ports early Friday.
Bodnar also suggested that further progress by Ukrainian forces in the south could unlock other shipping routes.
He said that if the military "can knock out the occupiers from the Kherson region, or at least from Kherson city, this will open up additional opportunities for transporting goods from Ukrainian ports — just as the liberation of Snake Island opened the possibility of this agreement."
There has been heavy shelling in the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv on Friday, especially around the port on the Dnipro river, according to Ukrainian officials.
"Russian terrorists shelled the residential quarters of the Ship district of Mykolaiv this afternoon," Mykolaiv Mayor Oleksandr Sienkevych said.
"The affected area is very large. Private houses and high-rise buildings were affected. There are fires, significant destruction and victims," he added.
Vitalii Kim, head of the Mykolaiv regional military administration, said at least 10 people had been wounded in one place, and there were also fatalities.
Friday's shelling followed overnight attacks by both multiple rocket launchers and artillery.
Kim said on Ukrainian television that about 5% of the Mykolaiv region's settlements are held by the Russians, and most battles on the ground are in neighboring Kherson region, which is largely Russian-occupied.
He also said that several Russian S-300 launchers — which are frequently involved in attacks on the city of Mykolaiv — had been eliminated.
Kim has ordered an extended curfew for the city this weekend, running from 11 p.m. local time on Friday until 5 a.m. local time on Monday.
One reason, he has said, is to track down alleged Russian informers in the city.
"One of the tasks would be to expose the Russian agents. A lot of residents cooperate with the law enforcement and provide information on collaborators," he claimed.
He advised residents that "the city will be closed; our law enforcement will be working in different districts, including working on collaborators. Be polite, provide all the useful information."