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Ukraine says Russia ‘blackmailing world with hunger’ after attack on port city of Odesa

Having pulled out of a deal to allow Ukraine to export grain through the Black Sea, Moscow has repeatedly struck one of the port cities involved in some of the fiercest assaults of its invasion

Bel Trew
Chief International Correspondent
Wednesday 19 July 2023 17:51 BST
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A firefighter works at a site of storage facilities hit during Russian missile strikes on Odesa
A firefighter works at a site of storage facilities hit during Russian missile strikes on Odesa (Ukrainian Presidential Press Service via Reuters)

Kyiv has accused Moscow of “blackmailing the world with hunger” after Russia launched its fiercest attack yet on Ukraine’s port city of Odesa, destroying 60,000 tonnes of grain and key infrastructure.

Odesa’s mayor said Tuesday night was “one of the most terrifying” for the Black Sea city since the start of President Vladimir Putin’s full-scale invasion of the country last February.

For a second consecutive night, Russia bombarded the southern coast, destroying food terminals and tens of thousands of tonnes of grain that was due to be shipped out via a United Nations-brokered grain corridor, according to Ukraine’s Ministry of Agriculture.

The attack came after Moscow pulled out of the year-old agreement allowing the safe passage of Ukrainian produce via the Black Sea, which was mediated by the UN and Turkey to minimise the impact of the war on global food security.

“Russian terrorists absolutely deliberately targeted the infrastructure of the grain deal,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on the Telegram messaging app.

“Every Russian missile is a strike – not only on Ukraine but on everyone in the world who wants normal and safe life.”

Ukraine’s agriculture minister Mykola Solskyi said that the damage to Odesa and neighbouring Chornomorsk ports would take at least a year to fix.

“This is a terrorist act not against Ukraine, but against the whole world, the food security of which is again under threat,” he said in a written statement that warned that if Ukraine cannot export food the poorest of the world “will be on the verge of survival”.

“Humanity is held hostage by a terrorist country that is blackmailing the whole world with hunger.”

Russia has said it was halting participation in the deal because promises to facilitate its own shipments of food and fertilisers had not been kept.

Ukraine’s air force said that it shot down 37 of 63 projectiles that Russia launched at targets across the country on Tuesday.

Firefighters at the site of one of the strikes in Odesa (Ukrainian Presidential Press Service via Reuters)

Ukraine’s southern military command said Russia had used supersonic missiles, including the Kh-22 that was designed to take out aircraft carriers, to hit Odesa’s port infrastructure.

Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s office said 10 civilians, including a nine-year-old boy, were wounded in the onslaught. Grain terminals were damaged as well as an industrial facility, warehouses, shopping malls, residential and administrative buildings and cars.

Flames and smoke were seen rising from shattered warehouses in video released by the emergencies ministry, which also showed a residential block with shattered windows.

Serhiy Bratchuck, a spokesperson for the Odesa military administration, called it “hellish”.

Odesa’s mayor Gennadiy Trukhanov said the bombardment was “one of the most terrifying nights” his city had endured over the last 16 months.

“[Russia] attacked Odesa with various types of missiles and Shahed [drones].

“We cannot recall such a scale of attack since the beginning of the full-scale invasion,” he wrote on his official Telegram channel.

Speaking to The Independent, Natalia Humeniuk, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s southern command, said the target was clearly port infrastructure.

“This can be connected with the grain agreement, and Russia’s attempt to draw attention to its agreements or to convince the partner countries that Ukraine cannot provide port security,” she added.

The Odesa region’s three ports were the only ones operating in Ukraine during the war under the UN-brokered Black Sea Grain Initiative, which allows vital global food supplies to leave Ukraine through a Russian blockade of the country’s ports.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said Russia’s exit from the agreement worsened the global food security outlook and risks adding to food inflation, particularly for low-income countries.

An IMF spokesperson said the global lender would continue to carefully monitor ongoing developments in the region and their impact on global food insecurity.

“The discontinuation of the initiative impacts the food supply to countries that rely heavily on shipments from Ukraine, in particular in north Africa, the Middle East, and south Asia,” the fund said. “It worsens the food security outlook and risks adding to global food inflation, especially for low-income countries.”

Most of Ukraine was under air raid alerts on and off starting soon after midnight on Wednesday, with Russia striking other places, including Kyiv, which it attacked with drones.

Tuesday’s missile assault on Odesa also came after President Putin vowed to avenge Monday’s attack on Russia’s prized Kerch Bridge between the Russian mainland and the occupied peninsula of Crimea, which Moscow illegally annexed in 2014.

Moscow blamed Kyiv for the explosion which killed two parents and injured a teenager, an accusation Ukraine has denied.

Russia had to evacuate more than 2,000 people from parts of Crimea on Wednesday after a fire broke out at a military training ground in the Kirovske district, according to the Russian-installed governor.

Telegram channels linked to Russian security services and Ukrainian media said an ammunition depot caught fire at the base after a Ukrainian overnight air attack.

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