Ukraine on Sunday continued efforts to revive grain exports from its Black Sea ports as part of a deal to ease global food shortages, but warned deliveries would suffer if the Russian strike in Odessa the day before was the sign of more to come.
President Volodymyr Zelensky denounced Saturday’s attack as “barbarism” that showed Moscow could not be trusted to implement a deal reached a day earlier with the mediation of Turkey and the United Nations .
State broadcaster Suspilne quoted the Ukrainian military as saying after the strike that the missiles did not hit the port’s grain storage area or cause significant damage, and Kyiv said preparations to resume shipments of Cereals were in progress.
“We are continuing technical preparations for the launch of exports of agricultural products from our ports,” Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said in a Facebook post on Saturday.
Russia said on Sunday its forces hit a Ukrainian warship and an arms store in Odessa with missiles.
The agreement signed Friday by Moscow and Kyiv was hailed as a diplomatic breakthrough that would help curb soaring global food prices, with UN officials saying it could bring Ukrainian grain shipments back to pre-war levels. war of five million tons per month.
But Zelenskyy’s economic adviser warned on Sunday that the strike in Odessa signals that this may be out of reach.
“Yesterday’s strike indicates that it will definitely not work like that,” Oleh Ustenko told Ukrainian television.
He said Ukraine had the capacity to export 60 million tonnes of grain over the next nine months, but it would take up to 24 months if its ports could not function properly.
The war enters its 6th month
As the war entered its sixth month on Sunday, there was no sign of letting up in the fighting.
The Ukrainian military reported Russian shelling in the north, south and east, and again referred to Russian operations paving the way for an assault on Bakhmut in the eastern Donbass region.
The intensification of Russian shelling has prompted the mayor of Kharkiv to urge residents of Ukraine’s second-largest city to avoid land transport if possible.
“Last week has shown that the aggressor no longer even pretends to shoot at military targets,” Ihor Terekhov wrote on the Telegram messaging app on Sunday. “Use the metro more often – to this day it’s the safest way to get around.”
Ukraine’s air force command said its forces shot down three Russian Kalibr cruise missiles early on Sunday, fired from the Black Sea and aimed at the western Khmelnytskyi region.
While the main theater of fighting has been the Donbass, Zelenskyy said in a video on Saturday that Ukrainian forces were moving “step by step” through the occupied Kherson region in the eastern Black Sea.
The strike on Odessa was condemned by the United Nations, the European Union, the United States, Britain, Germany and Italy.
Russian news agencies quoted the Russian Defense Ministry as saying that a Ukrainian warship and anti-ship missiles supplied by the United States had been destroyed.
“A moored Ukrainian warship and a warehouse with Harpoon anti-ship missiles supplied by the United States were destroyed by long-range precision-guided naval missiles in the seaport of Odessa on the territory of a ship repair plant,” he said.
On Saturday, Turkey’s defense minister said Russian officials had told Ankara that Moscow had “nothing to do” with the strikes.
According to the Ukrainian military, two Kalibr missiles fired from Russian warships hit the area of a port pumping station, and two others were shot down by air defense forces.
Agreement stipulates safe passage for vessels
The strikes appeared to violate Friday’s agreement, which would allow safe passage in and out of Ukrainian ports.
Ukraine and Russia are the world’s leading wheat exporters, and the blockade of Ukrainian ports by the Russian Black Sea Fleet since the February 24 invasion of Moscow has trapped tens of millions of tons of grain, worsening the global supply chain bottlenecks.
Along with Western sanctions on Russia, it has fueled food and energy price inflation, plunging some 47 million people into “acute hunger”, according to the United Nations World Food Programme.
Moscow denies any responsibility for the food crisis, accusing the sanctions of slowing down its food and fertilizer exports and Ukraine of having mined the approaches to its ports.
Ukraine has mined the waters near its ports as part of its wartime defences, but under Friday’s agreement pilots will guide vessels along safe channels.
A joint coordination center made up of members of the four parties to the agreement is to monitor ships passing from the Black Sea to the Turkish Bosphorus Strait and on global markets. All parties agreed on Friday that there would be no attacks against them.
Russian President Vladimir Putin calls the war a “special military operation” aimed at demilitarizing Ukraine and rooting out dangerous nationalists. Kyiv and the West call it a baseless pretext for aggressive land grabbing.