UPDATED – The war in Ukraine: What you need to know right now

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Aug 6 (Reuters) – Russia and Ukraine accused each other on Friday of shelling Europe’s biggest nuclear power plant as fighting raged again in the crucial border region of the Donbas and three more ships left ports carrying previously blockaded Ukrainian grain. Shells hit a high-voltage power line at the Zaporizhzhia plant, prompting operators to disconnect a reactor despite no radioactive leak being detected. The plant was captured by Russian forces in early March in the opening stage of the war but it is still run by its Ukrainian technicians.

MORE ON ZAPORIZHZHIA PLANT 

While Ukraine’s state nuclear power company Energoatom blamed Russia on Friday for the damage at the Zaporizhzhia power station, Russia’s defence ministry accused Ukrainian forces of shelling the plant, saying a leak of radiation had been avoided only by luck. The Russian defence ministry said the generating capacity of one unit had been reduced and power supply to another had been cut. In addition, the nearby city of Enerhodar had power and water supply problems, it said. “Fortunately, the Ukrainian shells did not hit the oil and fuel facility and the oxygen plant nearby, thus avoiding a larger fire and a possible radiation accident,” a ministry statement said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy though said Moscow was responsible and accused it of committing “an open, brazen crime, an act of terror”. In a late night address he demanded sanctions on the entire Russian nuclear industry. “It is a purely a security issue. Those who create nuclear threats to other nations are certainly not capable of using nuclear technologies safely,” he said. 

Update The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) raised grave concerns on Saturday about the shelling the previous day at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine, saying the action showed the risk of a nuclear disaster.

“I’m extremely concerned by the shelling yesterday at Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, which underlines the very real risk of a nuclear disaster that could threaten public health and the environment in Ukraine and beyond,” Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said in a statement. Grossi, who leads the United Nation’s nuclear watchdog, urged all sides in the Ukraine conflict to exercise the “utmost restraint” around the plant.

FIGHTING/WEAPONS

Russia’s war in Ukraine is about to enter a new phase, with most fighting shifting to a nearly 350 kilometre (217 mile) front stretching southwest from near Zaporizhzhia to Kherson, parallel to the Dnieper River, British military intelligence said on Saturday. Russian forces are almost certainly amassing in the south of Ukraine, anticipating a counter-offensive or in preparation for a possible assault, the UK’s Ministry of Defence said on Twitter.  Long convoys of Russian military trucks, tanks, towed artillery and other weapons continue to move away from Ukraine’s Donbas region and are headed southwest.

North Macedonia has agreed to supply tanks and planes to Ukraine to help fend off Moscow’s ongoing invasion, senior Ukrainian presidential aide Mykhailo Podolyak said on Saturday. “Many nations are showing more courage today than half of the G20 (Group of 20 major economic powers). Like North Macedonia, giving Ukraine a (supportive) shoulder in the form of tanks and planes,” Podolyak wrote on Twitter. The defence ministry of North Macedonia, a small Balkan country, confirmed last week that it would supply Soviet-era tanks to Ukraine, but has said nothing about aircraft deliveries.

Ukraine’s southern front-line city of Mykolaiv has imposed an unusually long curfew from late Friday to early Monday morning as authorities try to catch people collaborating with Russia, the region’s governor said on Friday. 

The next weapons package to Ukraine from the United States was expected to be $1 billion and include munitions for long-range weapons and armoured medical transport vehicles, sources briefed on the matter told Reuters.

ECONOMY/DIPLOMACY

The head of Amnesty International’s Ukrainian office is leaving the human rights group after it accused Ukraine’s armed forces of endangering civilians by basing troops in residential areas.  Russia has banned investors from so-called unfriendly countries from selling shares in energy projects and banks until the end of the year, part of the stand-off with the West over sanctions imposed after the invasion.

U.S. President Biden said his administration was working hard to secure the release of basketball star Brittney Griner, whose arrest in Moscow a week before Russia invaded Ukraine in February plunged her into the geopolitical maelstrom that followed. 

Russia said it was ready to discuss a prisoner swap with the United States in private.

(Compiled by Robert Birsel and Frances Kerry)

Reuters

Photo A still image taken from a handout video made available by the Russian Defence Ministry’s press service shows a Russian multiple launch rocket systems ‘Hurricane’ firing a rocket during battles at an undisclosed location in Ukraine, 03 August 2022 (issued 04 August 2022). EPA-EFE/RUSSIAN DEFENCE MINISTRY PRESS SERVICE HANDOUT

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