Content ID

331865

WRAPUP 4-Attack on Ukraine nuclear plant prompts U.N. call for access

(Adds Russia saying nuclear complex operating normally, context on war in Ukraine's south, one dead in shelling of Kharkiv)

* Kyiv, Moscow trade blame for hits on Zaporizhzhia plant

* UN's Guterres: Any attack on nuclear plant is 'suicidal'

* Plant in Russian-held region operating normally -Moscow

* Two Ukrainian grain ships leave ports, 12 since last week

Aug 8 (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on Monday for international inspectors to be given access to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant after Ukraine and Russia traded accusations over shelling of Europe's largest atomic complex at the weekend.

"Any attack (on) a nuclear plant is a suicidal thing," Guterres told a news conference in Japan, where he attended the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony on Saturday to commemorate the 77th anniversary of the world's first atomic bombing.

Despite the shelling, the nuclear reactor complex was operating in "normal mode", Interfax news agency quoted Yevgeniy Balitsky, the Russian-installed head of the local administration, as saying on Monday.

Russian forces captured the plant in Ukraine's southeast in early March, shortly after Moscow's Feb. 24 invasion of its neighbour, but it is still run by Ukrainian technicians.

Ukraine blamed Russia for renewed shelling in the area of the plant on Saturday that had damaged three radiation sensors and injured a worker. It was the second reported hit on the plant in as many days, following damage to a power line.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in a televised address on Sunday, accused Russia of waging "nuclear terror" that warranted more international sanctions, this time on Moscow's sprawling nuclear power sector.

The Zaporizhzhia region's Russian-installed authority said Ukrainian forces hit the site with a multiple rocket launcher, damaging administrative buildings and a storage area.

Russia's embassy in Washington itemised the damage, saying Ukrainian artillery damaged two high-voltage power lines and a water pipeline, but critical infrastructure was unaffected.

Reuters could not verify either side's version of what happened.

Ukraine has said it is planning to conduct a major counter-offensive in the Russian-occupied south, apparently focused on the city of Kherson, west of Zaporizhzhia, and that it has already retaken dozens of villages.

Armed conflict near a Soviet-era nuclear power station has alarmed the world.

Guterres said the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) needed access to the plant. "We fully support the IAEA in all their efforts in relation to creat(ing) the conditions for stabilisation of the plant," he said.

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi warned on Saturday that the latest attack "underlines the very real risk of a nuclear disaster".

GRAIN EXPORTS PICK UP STEAM

Elsewhere, a deal to unblock Ukraine's food exports and ease global shortages gathered pace as two grain ships sailed out of Ukrainian Black Sea ports on Monday, raising the total to 12 since the first vessel left a week ago.

Four ships that left Ukraine on Sunday are expected to anchor near Istanbul on Monday evening, Turkey's defence ministry said, and would be inspected on Tuesday, while the first vessel to sail since Russia's Feb. 24 invasion docked.

The two latest outgoing ships were carrying almost 59,000 tonnes of corn and soybeans and were bound for Italy and southeastern Turkey following inspections. The four that left on Sunday bore almost 170,000 tonnes of corn and other food.

The July 22 grain export pact brokered by Turkey and the United Nations represents a rare diplomatic triumph as fighting churns on in Ukraine and aims to help ease soaring global food prices arising from the war.

Before Moscow's invasion, Russia and Ukraine together accounted for nearly a third of global wheat exports. The disruption since then has raised the spectre of famine in parts of the world.

Ukraine hopes to export 20 million tonnes of grain in silos and 40 million from its new harvest to help rebuild its shattered economy, the country's economic adviser, Oleh Ustenko, said in July.

GRINDING BATTLE FOR DONBAS

Russia says it is waging a "special military operation" in Ukraine to rid it of nationalists and protect Russian-speaking communities. Ukraine and the West describe Russia's actions as an unprovoked imperial-style war to reassert control over a pro-Western neighbour lost when the Soviet Union broke up in 1991.

The conflict has displaced millions, killed thousands of civilians and left cities, towns and villages in ruins.

It has evolved into a war of attrition concentrated in the east and south of Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin's forces are trying to gain full control of Ukraine's eastern Donbas region where pro-Moscow separatists seized territory after the Kremlin annexed Crimea to the south in 2014.

"Ukrainian soldiers are firmly holding the defence, inflicting losses on the enemy and are ready for any changes in the operational situation," Ukraine's general staff said in an operational update on Monday.

Russian forces stepped up attacks north and northwest of Russian-held Donetsk city in the Donbas on Sunday, Ukraine's military said. It said the Russians pounded Ukrainian positions near the heavily fortified settlements of Piski and Avdiivka, as well as shelling other locations in Donetsk province.

Russia is also trying to entrench its position in southern Ukraine, where it has been building up forces in a bid to fend off any counter-offensive near Kherson, Kyiv has said.

Interfax quoted a Russian-appointed official in Kherson as saying on Monday Ukraine had again shelled the Antonivskyi bridge there, damaging construction equipment and delaying its reopening.

The bridge is one of only two crossing points for Russian forces to territory they have occupied on the western bank of the major Dnipro river in the south.

It has been a key Ukrainian target in recent weeks, with Kyiv using high-precision U.S.-supplied rockets to try to destroy it in possible preparation for a counter-attack.

In the northeast, one person was killed and one wounded by a Russian rocket strike on Kharkiv, Ukraine's second largest city, regional governor Oleh Synehubov wrote on Telegram.

(Reporting by Reuters bureaus; Writing by Stephen Coates and Mark Heinrich; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Nick Macfie)

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