* Russians threatening Zaporizhia are “targets”-Zelensky
* Humanitarian cargo is to leave for Ethiopia
by Natalia Zinets and Andrea Shalal
KYIV, Aug 14 (Reuters) – Ukrainian President Volodimir Zelensky has warned Russian soldiers firing on Europe’s biggest nuclear power plant or using it as a firing base that they are now a “special target” for Ukrainian forces.
In addition, a shipment of food aid destined for Africa is about to leave Ukraine in the coming days, the first since the invasion of Ukraine by Russia.
Sources said the first grain ship to leave Ukraine under a UN deal was approaching Syria.
At the start of the war, Russian troops took control of the Zaporijjia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine, which is still managed by Ukrainian technicians.
Fearing a nuclear disaster after new bombardments in recent days, the Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, has called for the creation of a demilitarized zone. Ukraine and Russia accuse each other of being the source of the shootings.
“Every Russian soldier who shoots at the plant, or who 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,” Volodimir Zelensky said in a speech on Saturday evening.
The Ukrainian president, who did not provide further details, reaffirmed that he considered that Russia was taking the plant hostage in order to engage in nuclear blackmail.
This plant dominates the southern bank of a vast reservoir located on the banks of the Dnieper River. Ukrainian forces controlling towns on the opposite bank have come under intense Russian bombardment.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak accused Russia of having “hit the part of the nuclear power station where the electricity that supplies southern Ukraine is produced”.
“The objective is to disconnect us from the central and accuse the Ukrainian army,” he added on Twitter.
The local Russian-appointed official, Vladimir Rogov, wrote on Telegram that Ukrainian forces were bombing the plant.
The International Atomic Energy Agency, which wishes to inspect the plant, warned of the risk of nuclear disaster if the fighting did not stop. Nuclear experts fear that the shots will damage the spent fuel pools or the plant’s reactors.
While the fighting continues, cargo ships continue to depart from Ukraine under an agreement concluded at the end of July under the aegis of the United Nations and Turkey to limit the impact of the world food crisis.
The UN-chartered ship Brave Commander will leave for Africa in the coming days after finishing loading more than 23,000 tonnes of wheat in the Ukrainian port of Pivdennyi, a UN official said on Sunday.
The ship, which arrived at a port near Odessa, will travel to Ethiopia via a grain corridor crossing the Black Sea.
“The world needs food from Ukraine. This is the start of what we hope will be normal operations for starving people around the world,” Marianne Ward, deputy director of the World Food Program for Ukraine. The aid agency bought more than 800,000 tons of grain in Ukraine last year.
Separately, the first ship to leave Ukraine under the deal reached two weeks ago approached the Syrian port of Tartous on Sunday, according to two shipping sources. Le Razoni was originally due to sail to Lebanon, but the buyer refused the shipment, fearing that the quality of the maize had deteriorated after several months on board.
Kyiv has been announcing for weeks that it is preparing a counter-offensive to retake the neighboring provinces of Zaporijjia and Kherson, ie most of the territory which Russia seized after its invasion on February 24 and which it still controls.
Russia’s priority over the past week may have been to move units to bolster its offensive in southern Ukraine, British military intelligence said on Sunday.
Russian-backed forces from the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic in the eastern Donbass region have continued their assaults north of the city of Donetsk, Britain’s Defense Secretary said in its daily intelligence bulletin on Twitter.
The Ukrainian military command said early Sunday that Russian soldiers had continued, without success, to attack Ukrainian positions near Avdiivka, which since 2014 has become one of the outposts of Ukrainian forces near Donetsk.
Russia, in a daily briefing, said it had taken control of Udy, a village in the eastern Kharkiv region, which is under continuous shelling by Russian forces.
Reuters could not independently verify the parties’ assertions about the military operations.
Russia describes the invasion of Ukraine as a “special military operation” aimed at demilitarizing and “denazifying” its neighbor. (Reporting Natalia Zinets Kyiv, Yoruk Isik Istanbul, Andrea Shalal Yuzhne, Maya Gebeily Beirout, Jonathan Saul London, with Reuters bureaus; writing by Michael Perry and Ingrid Melander, French version Jean-Michel Blot)