Three ships loaded with grain have left Ukrainian ports under a recently concluded deal allowing safe passage, according to the Turkish Defenсe Ministry.
The first grain ship to set sail from a Ukrainian port since the start of the Russian invasion departed Odesa on Monday.
“We expect that the security guarantees of our partners from the UN and Turkey will continue to work, and food exports from our ports will become stable and predictable for all market participants,” Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said on Facebook after the ships set off.
In a rare diplomatic breakthrough in the five-month war, the United Nations and Turkey brokered a safe passage deal between Moscow and Kyiv, after the United Nations warned of famines due to Ukrainian grain shipments being halted.
Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops into Ukraine on February 24, sparking the biggest conflict in Europe since World War II and causing a global energy and food crisis.
Ukraine and Russia produce about one-third of global wheat and Russia is Europe’s main energy supplier.
On Friday, two grain ships set off from Chornomorsk and one from Odesa, with a total of about 58,000 tonnes of corn.
The Turkish Defence Ministry said on Twitter the Panama-flagged Navistar, carrying 33,000 tonnes of corn bound for Ireland, departed from Odesa.
The Maltese-flagged Rojen, carrying 13,000 tonnes of corn, departed from Chornomorsk port bound for Britain.
The Turkish-flagged ship Polarnet, carrying 12,000 tonnes of corn, set off from Chornomorsk for the Turkish Black Sea port of Karasu.
The Turkish bulk carrier Osprey S, flying the flag of Liberia, was expected to arrive in Ukraine’s Chornomorsk port on Friday, the regional administration of Odesa said.
It would be the first ship to arrive at a Ukrainian port during the war.
Ukraine calls for grain deal to extend to metals
Ukraine has called for the grain deal to be extended to include other products, such as metals, the Financial Times has reported.
“This agreement is about logistics, about the movement of vessels through the Black Sea,” Ukraine’s Deputy Economy Minister Taras Kachka told the newspaper.
“What’s the difference between grain and iron ore?”
The Kremlin said a solution could only be found if it linked to lifting restrictions on Russian metal producers.
Russia and Ukraine traditionally produce about one-third of global wheat.
But Russia said on Friday it might not reach its expected harvest of 130 million tonnes of grain due to weather factors and a lack of spare parts for foreign-made equipment.
Nuclear power plant’s power lines struck
Shelling hit a high-voltage power line on Friday at a major Ukrainian nuclear power station captured by Russia, prompting the plant’s operators to disconnect a reactor despite no radioactive leak being detected.
Ukraine’s state nuclear power company Energoatom blamed Russia for the damage at the Zaporizhzhia power station, Europe’s largest.
Earlier this week, the United Nations nuclear watchdog appealed for access to the plant, which Washington says Russia is using as a battlefield shield.
The Russian-installed administration of the nearby occupied city of Enerhodar said Ukrainian artillery fire had cut the lines at the plant, which was captured by Russian forces in early March in the opening stage of the war.
The administration said in a statement fire had broken out and that power necessary for the safe functioning of reactors had been cut off. The plant continues to be run by its Ukrainian technicians.
Energoatom said the plant, located about 200 kilometres north-west of the Russian-held port of Mariupol in south-east Ukraine, was still operational and no radioactive discharges had been detected.
A decision had been taken to disconnect one reactor from the network because of damage to a 330 kilowatt high-voltage power distribution line linking the plant to the thermal power station, it said.
After five months of fighting, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy this week described the pressure his armed forces were under in the eastern Donbas region as “hell”.
Moscow is seeking to control the largely Russian-speaking Donbas, comprised of Luhansk and Donetsk provinces, where pro-Moscow separatists gained control of territory after the Kremlin annexed Crimea to the south in 2014.
Mr Zelenskyy spoke of fierce fighting around the town of Avdiivka and the fortified village of Pisky, where Ukraine had acknowledged its Russian foe’s “partial success” in recent days.
The Ukrainian military said on Thursday Russian forces had mounted at least two assaults on Pisky but had been repelled.
Russian and pro-Russian forces had taken full control of Pisky, the TASS news agency cited separatist forces as saying on Friday.
Ukraine had spent the past eight years fortifying defensive positions in Pisky, seeing it as a buffer zone against Russian-backed forces which control the city of Donetsk about 10km to the south-east.
Ukrainian General Oleksiy Hromov told a news conference his forces had recaptured two villages around the eastern city of Sloviansk but had been pushed back to the town of Avdiivka after being forced to abandon a coal mine regarded as an important defensive position.
The Russian Defence Ministry confirmed its offensive. Reuters could not immediately verify either side’s assertions.
On Friday, Ukraine’s General Staff said Russian shelling of scores of towns across the country again targeted civilian settlements as well as military infrastructure.
Human rights group Amnesty International on Thursday said Ukraine was endangering civilians by basing troops in residential areas.
Mr Zelenskyy hit back, saying the group was trying to “shift responsibility from the aggressor to the victim”.
The White House said it expected Russian officials to try to frame Ukrainian forces for an attack on the frontline town of Olenivka last week that killed prisoners held by Moscow-backed separatists.
Russia’s deputy UN ambassador responded in a Twitter post, saying US-made High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems were used in the attack.
UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres said on Wednesday he would launch a fact-finding mission after both sides requested an investigation.
Mr Putin said he launched his “special military operation” in Ukraine to ensure Russian security and protect Russian-speakers in Ukraine.
Ukraine and the West describe Russia’s actions as an unprovoked imperial-style war of aggression.
NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg said on Thursday the war was the most dangerous moment for Europe since World War II and Russia must not be allowed to win.
Amid fears among some politicians in the West that Russia’s ambitions might extend beyond Ukraine, Mr Stoltenberg warned Mr Putin that the response to such a move would be overwhelming.
“If President Putin even thinks of doing something similar to a NATO country as he has done to Georgia, Moldova or Ukraine, then all of NATO will be involved immediately,” Mr Stoltenberg said.
The war had led previously non-aligned Finland and Sweden to seek NATO membership, with the request so far ratified by 23 of the 30 member states, including the United States.