© Reuters. Firefighters work at the site of a Russian missile attack at the seaport of Odessa as the Russian attack on Ukraine continues on July 23, 2022.Press Service/Handout of the Southern Defense Joint Force via Reuters
Natalia Zinetz and Max Hender
Kyiv (Reuters) – Ukraine continued efforts to restart grain exports from its Black Sea ports on Sunday under a deal aimed at easing global food shortages, but warned that if a Russian missile strike on Odessa was a sign of more food to come Delivery will be affected.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy denounced Saturday’s attack as a “barbaric act”, a sign that Moscow cannot be trusted to implement an agreement reached a day earlier, mediated by Turkey and the United Nations.
The Ukrainian military was quoted by public broadcaster Suspilne as saying that the Russian missile did not hit a grain storage area at the port and caused no major damage. Kyiv said preparations for the resumption of grain shipments were underway.
“We continue to make technical preparations for the export of agricultural products from our ports,” Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said in a Facebook (NASDAQ: ) post.
According to the Ukrainian military, two “Kalibr” missiles fired by Russian warships hit an area of a pumping station in the port, while the other two were shot down by air defenses.
Russia said on Sunday that its forces hit a Ukrainian warship and an Odessa arsenal with its high-precision missiles.
The agreement signed by Moscow and Kyiv on Friday was hailed as a diplomatic breakthrough to restore Ukrainian grain exports to pre-war levels of 5 million tonnes a month, helping to stem a surge in global food prices.
But Zelensky’s economic adviser warned on Sunday that the strike in Odessa showed it could be out of reach.
“Yesterday’s strike showed that it will definitely not work that way,” Oleustenko told Ukrainian television.
Ukraine could export 60 million tonnes of grain over the next nine months, but it could take up to 24 months if port operations are disrupted, he said.
The war enters its sixth month
As the war entered its sixth month on Sunday, the fighting showed no sign of abating.
The Ukrainian military reported Russian artillery shelling in the north, south and east, again referring to Russian actions that paved the way for an attack on Bakhmut in the eastern Donbas region.
Three Russian Caliber cruise missiles fired from the Black Sea and aimed at areas west of Khmelnitsky were shot down early on Sunday, its Air Force Command said.
While the main theater of operations is the Donbass, the Ukrainian military said its forces had moved within range of Russian targets in the occupied Kherson region of the eastern Black Sea, where Kyiv was launching a counteroffensive.
“A number of transportation infrastructure objects in the temporarily occupied zone have been under fire control, which significantly limits the mobility and logistics of enemy forces,” the Southern Military Command said in a Facebook post.
It said it also destroyed Russian S-300 anti-aircraft batteries in the area.
Reuters could not immediately verify the battlefield report.
The attack on Odessa drew condemnation from the UN, EU, US, UK, Germany and Italy.
The Russian news agency quoted the Russian Defense Ministry as saying that a Ukrainian warship and anti-ship missiles provided by the United States were destroyed.
“A docked Ukrainian warship and a warehouse containing U.S.-supplied Harpoon anti-ship missiles were destroyed by long-range precision-guided naval missiles on the territory of a ship repair yard in the seaport of Odessa,” it said.
On Saturday, Turkey’s defense minister said Russian officials had told Ankara that Moscow had “nothing to do” with the attack.
Friday’s deal was designed to allow safe access to Ukrainian ports blocked by Russia’s Black Sea Fleet since Moscow’s February 24 invasion, in what a UN official called a “de facto ceasefire” for the ships and installations involved.
Ukraine and Russia are major global wheat exporters, and the blockades have trapped tens of millions of tonnes of the grain, exacerbating bottlenecks in global supply chains.
According to the World Food Program, as Western sanctions against Russia, it has triggered a rise in food and energy prices, pushing some 47 million people into “severe hunger”.
Moscow denies responsibility for the food crisis, blames sanctions for slowing its food and fertilizer exports and blames Ukraine for exploiting access to its ports.
Ukraine has mined waters near its ports as part of its defense of the war, but under Friday’s agreement, pilots will guide ships along safe shipping lanes.
A joint coordination center made up of members of the four parties to the agreement will monitor ships passing through the Black Sea heading for Turkey’s Bosphorus and entering world markets. The parties agreed on Friday that they would not be attacked.
Putin called the war a “special military operation” aimed at demilitarizing Ukraine and rooting out dangerous nationalists. Kyiv and the West called it a baseless excuse for aggressive land grabs.