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Zelensky hails Erdoğan’s visit as Russian strikes batter Kharkiv

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday hailed a visit to his war-ravaged country from Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as Russian strikes battered the eastern region of Kharkiv, leaving several dead and dozens injured, Agence France-Presse reported.

In a separate meeting with UN chief Antonio Guterres, Zelensky called on the UN to ensure security at the Zaporizhzhia power plant, where increased fighting has raised fears of a nuclear incident.

“The visit of the President of Turkey to Ukraine is a powerful message of support from such a powerful country,” Zelensky said in a statement, adding that they would discuss cereals exports and Zaporizhzhia.

Erdoğan and Guterres, who were due to hold a press conference with Zelensky in Lviv, were key brokers of a deal last month allowing the resumption of grain exports from Ukraine after Russia’s invasion blocked essential global supplies.

On Thursday the 25th cargo ship departed Ukraine under the deal, and Zelensky said he and Guterres had “agreed to continue the coordination of the grain initiative implementation. We also discussed the possible directions of its development.”

Kharkiv strikes

Erdoğan, who has significant geopolitical rivalries with the Kremlin but maintains a close working relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, met with the Russian leader less than two weeks ago in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

The early morning strikes across the city of Kharkiv and nearby Krasnograd, meanwhile, left at least six dead and 25 injured, just one day after Russian bombardments killed 13 in Kharkiv city.

Regional governor Oleg Synegubov posted images from the scene of one Kharkiv strike showing the smoldering remains of several burnt out buildings and twisted wreckage of destroyed vehicles nearby.

A spokesman for the regional prosecutor’s office said the latest tally showed four were killed and 22 injured in Kharkiv city with another two killed and three injured in Krasnograd further southwest.

“Kharkiv. 175 days of horror. Daily terror, missile strikes on residential areas and civilians,” a senior presidential aide, Mykhaylo Podolyak, wrote on social media.

The UN chief is slated to travel on Friday to Odessa, one of three ports involved in the grain exports deal — hammered out in July under the aegis of the UN with Ankara’s mediation.

He will then head to Turkey to visit the Joint Coordination Centre, the body tasked with overseeing the accord.

According to the UN, the first half of August saw 21 freighters authorized to sail under the deal carrying more than 563,000 tons of agricultural products, including over 451,000 tons of corn.

The Ukraine ports authority said on Thursday that 25 cargo ships carrying grain had departed from three Black Sea ports under the deal and that the latest to depart was expected in Egypt in the coming days.

‘Provocation’

Russia’s defense ministry, meanwhile, said on Thursday its forces had not deployed heavy weapons at the Zaporizhzhia plant, accusing Kyiv of preparing a “provocation” at the station.”Russian troops have no heavy weapons either on the territory of the station or in areas around it. There are only guard units,” the ministry said in a statement.

After meeting with Guterres in Lviv, Zelensky called on the UN to help demilitarize and secure Europe’s largest nuclear facility.

“The UN must ensure the security of this strategic object, its demilitarization and complete liberation from Russian troops,” he said.

Zelensky on Wednesday said Ukrainian diplomats and scientists were in “constant touch” with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) with the goal of sending a mission by the watchdog to the occupied nuclear facility.

“The Russian army must withdraw from the territory of the nuclear power plant and all neighboring areas, and take away its military equipment from the plant,” he added. “This must happen without any conditions and as soon as possible.”

Also on Wednesday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Russia’s seizure of the plant “poses a serious threat to the safety and the security of this facility [and] raises the risks of a nuclear accident or incident.”

Stoltenberg also called for a Russian withdrawal and inspections by the IAEA and accused Moscow of using “the ground around the nuclear power plant as a staging area, as a platform, to launch artillery attacks on Ukrainian forces, and this is reckless.”

Russian forces took the Zaporizhzhia plant, located in southern Ukraine, in March shortly after invading. The uncertainty surrounding it has fueled fears of a nuclear accident to rival Chernobyl in 1986.

Russia and Ukraine have accused each other of shelling the Zaporizhzhia installation.

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