US: Russia using nuclear shield in Ukraine, risks terrible accident

 The United States said Russia was using Ukraine's biggest nuclear power plant as a "nuclear shield" by stationing troops there.

The United States said Russia was using Ukraine's biggest nuclear power plant as a nuclear shield by stationing troops there, preventing Ukrainian forces from returning fire and risking a terrible nuclear accident.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington was deeply concerned that the Zaporizhzhia plant, which Russia was accused of firing shells dangerously close to in March, was now a Russian military base used to fire on nearby Ukrainian forces.

Russia's actions in Ukraine went beyond using a human shield to protect nuclear facilities, Deputy Secretary of State Matthew Blinken says, calling it a nuclear shield Ukraine has called for the international community to close the sky over its nuclear power plants with air defence systems.

Russian President Vladimir Putin's February 24 invasion of Ukraine has sparked the biggest conflict in Europe since World War Two, killing thousands, displacing millions and leaving large parts of Ukraine in rubble.

The war has also caused a global food crisis, with Russia and Ukraine producing about a one third of the world's wheat, and Western sanctions on Russia, a major energy provider to Europe, have caused a global energy crisis.

The Razoni is the first ship to carry Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea since Russia invaded Ukraine five months ago. Turkey and the United Nations brokered a grain and fertiliser export agreement between Russia and Ukraine last month. There are still hurdles to overcome before millions of tonnes of Ukrainian grain depart from its Black Sea ports, including clearing sea mines.

Ukraine hopes to export 40 million tonnes of grain from the harvest now under way, initially from Odesa and nearby Pivdennyi and Chornomorsk. The United Nations has warned of the risk of multiple famines this year due to the war in Ukraine. Russia has denied responsibility for the food crisis, saying Western sanctions have slowed its exports.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said about 22,000 Russian troops were preparing to advance on the cities of Kriviy Rih and Mykolaiv, where a "sufficiently large" Ukrainian force lay in wait. Ukraine and Western nations have dismissed Russia's invasion of Crimea as a baseless pretext for war.

In Kherson region, which is mostly under Russian control, Ukrainian troops had liberated some 50 towns, said Yuri Sobolevsky, deputy head of the ousted Kherson regional council.

"Russian troop in Kherson region are sustaining considerable losses. There are now more than 300 in a military hospital that the Russians have set up in a civil hospital in the town of Beryslav," Sobolevsky wrote on Telegram. 

"About 40 doctors have been brought in from Russia to staff the hospital." Serhiy Gaidai, governor of Luhansk region, which is nearly all under Russian control, said foreign fighters were arriving.

Russian private military firm Wagner has likely been allocated responsibility for specific sectors of the front line in eastern Ukraine, possibly as Russia is facing a major shortage of combat infantry, Britain's Ministry of Defence said in an intelligence update on Friday.

Gaidai said partisans were destroying key infrastructure, including gas and water networks, in battered Luhansk towns to slow Russian forces.