A United Nations-chartered ship loaded with 23,000 metric tons of Ukrainian grain set sail Sunday for Ethiopia in the first such shipment from war-ravaged Ukraine, aimed at helping a nation facing famine.
The Brave Commander left from the Ukrainian port of Yuzhne, east of Odesa, and plans to sail to Djibouti, where the grain will be unloaded and transferred to Ethiopia under the U.N.’s World Food Program initiative.
Ukraine and Russia reached a deal with Turkey and the United Nations three weeks ago to restart Black Sea grain deliveries to end major export disruptions occurring since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February.
Ethiopia is one of five countries that the U.N. considers at risk of starvation.
"The capacity is there. The grain is there. The demand is there across the world and in particular, these countries," WFP Ukraine coordinator Denise Brown told The Associated Press. "So, if the stars are aligned, we are very, very hopeful that all the actors around this agreement will come together on what is really an issue for humanity. So today was very positive."
Separately, tensions remained high around Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, where Ukrainian officials accuse Russian forces of repeatedly firing rockets at the facility, threatening a disastrous nuclear accident.
Ukrainian forces will target Russians troops who shoot at the plant or from it, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his Saturday night video address.
"Every Russian soldier who either shoots at the plant, or shoots using the plant as cover, must understand that he becomes a special target for our intelligence agents, for our special services, for our army," Zelenskyy said.
The two sides continue to accuse each other of firing weapons near the plant, which Russia captured in March, shortly after it invaded Ukraine.
A Russian diplomat, Mikhail Ulyanov, called for Ukraine to offer security assurances so that international inspectors could visit the Zaporizhzhia plant, Europe’s largest nuclear facility.
"It is important that the Ukrainians stop their shelling of the station and provide security guarantees to members of the mission. An international team cannot be sent to work under continuous artillery shelling," Ulyanov was quoted as saying Sunday by Russian state news agency Tass.
The plant’s operator reported the facility was at risk of violating radiation and fire standards after a surge in rocket fire in the last week.
Ukrainian nuclear power operator Energoatom said the nitrogen-oxygen station, the domestic sewage pumping station, and the combined auxiliary building were seriously damaged during the shelling, as well as “three radiation monitoring sensors” around the dry storage of a spent nuclear fuel site.”
The operator said the fire department located outside the power plant was fired upon. Officials also said a shell hit a power transformer, threatening the country’s power grid.
The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency said there's "a real risk of nuclear disaster" unless the fighting stops, and inspectors are allowed inside the facility.
The United Nations is calling for immediate access to the nuclear power plant, as Ukrainian officials said Russian forces fired more than 40 rockets at the city of Marhanets, which is across the Dnieper River from the power plant.
Russian forces who occupy the plant have been accused of using it as a shield to fire at Ukrainian army positions. Heavy shelling in areas near the plant has been reported over the past two weeks. Russian soldiers control the facility, but Ukrainian staff are continuing to operate the plant.
"We know that the Russians have been there for some time. We also know that the Russians have fired artillery, I think specifically rockets, from around the power plant," a senior U.S. military official told reporters Friday, refuting Russian allegations the plant has been targeted by Ukrainian forces.
VOA National Security Correspondent Jeff Seldin contributed to this report. Some information came from Reuters, The Associated Press and Agence France-Presse.