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Six more ships carrying agricultural cargo held up by Ukraine’s war were given permission on Sunday to leave the country’s Black Sea coast, as analysts warned that Russia was moving troops and equipment towards southern port cities to prevent a Ukrainian counteroffensive. .

Ukraine and Russia also accused each other of bombing Europe’s biggest nuclear plant.

The loaded ships were cleared to depart Chornomorsk and Odesa, according to the Joint Coordination Center, which oversees an international agreement aimed at taking some 20 million tonnes of grain from Ukraine to feed millions of hungry people in Africa, the Middle East. and parts of Asia.

Yurri Yalovchuk, a third-generation farmer, told CBS News that he has 1,000 tons of his barley crop that should have been shipped in the spring. It is no longer fit for human consumption, becoming chicken feed.

Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the United Nations signed agreements last month to create an 111-nautical-mile maritime corridor that would allow cargo ships to travel safely out of ports that the Russian military has blocked and through waters that the Ukrainian military has blocked. they had mined. Implementation of the agreement, which has been in place for four months, has proceeded slowly since the first ship embarked on Aug.

Four of the carriers cleared on Sunday to leave Ukraine were transporting more than 219,000 tonnes of maize. The fifth transported more than 6,600 tons of sunflower oil and the sixth 11,000 tons of soybeans, the Joint Coordination Center said.

Three other cargo ships that departed on Friday passed their inspections and received clearance on Sunday to pass through Turkey’s Bosphorus Strait on their way to their final destinations, the Center said.

However, the ship that left Ukraine last Monday to great fanfare as the first under the grain export deal had its scheduled arrival in Lebanon delayed on Sunday, according to a Lebanese Cabinet minister and the Ukrainian Embassy. . The cause of the delay was not immediately clear.

Ukrainian officials were initially skeptical of a grain export deal, citing suspicions that Moscow would try to exploit shipping activity for mass troops or send long-range missiles from the Black Sea, as it did several times during the war.

The agreements require ships to leave Ukraine under military escort and undergo inspections to ensure they carry only grain, fertilizer or food and not any other goods. Incoming cargo ships are checked to ensure they are not carrying weapons.

In a weekend review, Britain’s Ministry of Defense said the Russian invasion that began on February 24 “is about to enter a new phase” in which fighting would shift to a frontline of approx. 350 kilometers (217 mi) stretching from close to the city. from Zaporizhzhia to Russian-occupied Kherson.

This area includes the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, which was attacked on Saturday. Each side accused the other of the attack.

Ukraine’s nuclear power plant operator Energoatom said Russian bombing damaged three radiation monitors around the spent nuclear fuel storage facility and that a worker was injured. Russian news agencies, citing the plant’s separatist administration, said that Ukrainian forces fired these projectiles.

Russian forces have occupied the power plant for months. Russian soldiers took shelter in bunkers before Saturday’s attack, according to Energoatom.

Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, recently warned that the way the plant was being operated and the fighting around it posed serious threats to health and the environment.

For the last four months of the war, Russia has focused on capturing the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine, where pro-Moscow separatists controlled some territories as self-proclaimed republics for eight years. Russian forces have made gradual progress in the region by launching missile and rocket attacks to reduce the movements of Ukrainian fighters elsewhere.

The Russians “continue to accumulate vast amounts of military equipment” in a city across the Dnieper River from Kherson, according to the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington think tank. Citing local Ukrainian officials, he said preparations appeared aimed at defending logistical routes into the city and establishing defensive positions on the left bank of the river.

Kherson came under Russian control at the start of the war and Ukrainian officials promised to take it back. It is just 227 kilometers from Odesa, home to Ukraine’s largest port, so the escalation of the conflict could have repercussions on the international grain deal.

The town of Mykolaiv, a shipbuilding center that Russian forces bomb daily, is even closer to Odesa. Mykolaiv region governor Vitaliy Kim said an industrial facility on the outskirts of the regional capital was attacked on Sunday.

On the last day, five civilians were killed by fire from Russians and separatists in cities in the Donetsk region, the part of Donbas still under Ukrainian control, regional governor Serhiy Haidai said.

He and Ukrainian government officials repeatedly urged civilians to evacuate.

Andrew Wilks contributed reporting from Istanbul.

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