Ukraine, UN denounce Russian missile strike on Odesa following deal to unblock grain exports

Ukraine, UN denounce Russian missile strike on Odesa following deal to unblock grain exports

Russian missiles hit Ukraine’s Black Sea port of Odesa hours after Moscow and Kyiv signed deals to allow grain exports to resume from there. Ukraine’s Foreign Affairs Ministry denounced Saturday’s airstrikes as “spit in the face” of Turkey and the United Nations, which brokered the agreements.

Two Russian missiles hit the port’s infrastructure, and Ukrainian air defences brought down two others, the Ukrainian military’s Southern Command said. Odesa regional governor Maksym Marchenko said an unspecified number of people were injured in the attack.

Command spokesperson Nataliya Humenyuk said no grain storage facilities were hit in Odesa. Turkey’s defence minister, however, said he had spoken with Ukrainian authorities, and one missile struck a grain silo and another landed nearby — but neither affected loading at Odesa’s docks.

“It took less than 24 hours for Russia to launch a missile attack on Odesa’s port, breaking its promises and undermining its commitments before the UN and Turkey under the Istanbul agreement,” Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko said. “In case of non-fulfilment, Russia will bear full responsibility for a global food crisis.”

“The invaders can no longer deceive anyone,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address.

Nikolenko described the missile strike on the 150th day of Russia’s war in Ukraine as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “spit in the face of UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who made great efforts to reach agreement.”

A Ukrainian soldier stands on top of a tank, at a location near Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Saturday. (Sergey Bobok/AFP/Getty Images)

Guterres’s office issued a statement saying the UN chief “unequivocally condemns” the strikes.

“Yesterday, all parties made clear commitments on the global stage to ensure the safe movement of Ukrainian grain and related products to global markets,” the statement said. “These products are desperately needed to address the global food crisis and ease the suffering of millions of people.”

Grain held up by war

It was not clear how Saturday’s Russian airstrikes would affect the plan to resume shipping Ukrainian grain by sea in safe corridors out of three Ukrainian Black Sea ports: Odesa, Chornomorsk and Yuzhny. 

Ukraine and Russia signed identical deals on Friday with the UN and Turkey in Istanbul backing the plan, which Guterres hailed as “a beacon of hope” for a world in which food prices are rising rapidly.

The agreements sought to clear the way for the shipment of millions of tons of Ukrainian grain and some Russian exports of grain and fertilizer that have been blocked by the war. Ukraine is one of the world’s largest exporters of wheat, corn and sunflower oil, but Russia’s invasion of the country and naval blockade of its ports halted shipments.

A truck is seen at a grain terminal during barley harvesting in the Odesa region of Ukraine last month. (Igor Tkachenko/Reuters)

Documents obtained by The Associated Press showed the deals called for a UN-led joint co-ordination centre in Istanbul, where officials from Ukraine, Russia and Turkey would oversee the scheduling and searches of cargo ships.

Zelenskyy previously called the agreements “a chance to prevent a global catastrophe — a famine that could lead to political chaos in many countries of the world, in particular in the countries that help us.”

The head of Zelenskyy’s office, Andriy Yermak, said on Twitter that the Odesa strike coming so soon after the endorsement of the Black Sea ports deal illustrated “the Russian diplomatic dichotomy.”

The U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Bridget Brink, denounced the Russian strike on the port of Odesa as “outrageous.” “The Kremlin continues to weaponize food,” she tweeted. “Russia must be held to account.”

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the attack casts serious doubt on the credibility of Russia’s commitment to the deal and undermines the work of the UN, Turkey and Ukraine.

“Russia bears responsibility for deepening the global food crisis and must stop its aggression and fully implement the deal to which it has agreed,” he said.

WATCH | Russian missile strike on Odesa after grain deal reached:

Russian missile strike on Odesa after grain deal reached

Russian missiles hit Ukraine’s Black Sea port of Odesa hours after Moscow and Kyiv signed deals to allow grain exports to resume from there.

3 reported dead in strike on airfield

Russia also fired a barrage of missiles on Saturday at an airfield and a railway facility in central Ukraine, killing at least three people, while Ukrainian forces launched rocket strikes on river crossings in a Russian-occupied southern region.

The attacks on key infrastructure marked new attempts by the warring parties to tip the scales of the grinding conflict in their favour.

In Ukraine’s central Kirovohradska region, 13 Russian missiles struck an airfield and a railway facility. Gov. Andriy Raikovych said that at least one serviceman and two guards were killed and another 16 people were wounded in the strikes near the city of Kirovohrad.

In the southern Kherson region, which Russian troops seized early in the invasion, Ukrainian forces preparing for a potential counteroffensive fired rockets at Dnieper River crossings to try to disrupt Russian supply lines.

A Ukrainian serviceman passes by destroyed buildings in the town of Siversk, in the Donetsk region of Eastern Ukraine, on Friday. (Anatolii Stepanov/AFP/Getty Images)

Still, Russian troops have largely held their ground in the Kherson region just north of the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014.

In the Zaporizhzhia region, Russian forces at a checkpoint are blocking 1,200 vehicles carrying people fleeing the area, and four people have died after being stranded there for days amid high heat, said Ivan Fedorov, mayor of the city of Melitopol, which is now under Russian control.

In the key port city of Mykolaiv, Mayor Oleksandr Senkevych said two people were wounded when Russian rockets struck an apartment building.

Fighting raged in Eastern Ukraine’s industrial heartland of the Donbas, where Russian forces tried to make new gains in the face of stiff Ukrainian resistance.

Ukrainian service members cover a tank with a camouflage net at their position in Ukraine’s Kharkiv region on Saturday. (Sofiia Gatilova/Reuters)

Ukrainians use U.S.-supplied rocket system

Earlier this week, the Ukrainians bombarded the Antonovsky Bridge across the Dnieper River using the U.S.-supplied High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), said Kirill Stremousov, deputy head of the Russia-appointed regional administration in Kherson.

Stremousov told Russian state news agency Tass that the only other crossing of the Dnieper, the dam of the Kakhovka hydroelectric plant, also came under attack from rockets launched with the weapons supplied by Washington but wasn’t damaged.

HIMARS, which can fire GPS-guided rockets at targets 80 kilometres away, a distance that puts it out of reach of most Russian artillery systems, has significantly bolstered the Ukrainian strike capability.

In addition, Ukrainian forces shelled an automobile bridge across the Inhulets River in the village of Darivka, Stremousov told Tass. He said the bridge just east of the regional capital of Kherson sustained seven hits but remained open.

A local resident stands inside an apartment damaged by a Russian military strike in Kharkiv on Saturday. (Vyacheslav Madiyevskyy/Reuters)

Stremousov said that unlike the Antonivskyi Bridge, the small bridge in Darivka has no strategic value.

Since April, the Kremlin has concentrated on capturing the Donbas, a mostly Russian-speaking region of Eastern Ukraine where pro-Russia separatists have proclaimed independence.

However, Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov emphasized on Wednesday that Moscow plans to retain control of other areas its forces have occupied during the war.

A Ukrainian police officer checks the documents of a man and woman riding their bikes, as he patrols during a nighttime curfew, at a checkpoint in Donetsk region on Friday. (Nariman El-Mofty/The Associated Press)