Kyiv says Russia hits grain infrastructure with strikes on Ukraine's Odesa ports
PHOTO CAPTION: A firefighter works at a site of storage facilities hit during Russian missile and drone strikes, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Odesa, Ukraine July 19, 2023. Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via REUTERS
By Max Hunder and Olena Harmash
KYIV (Reuters) - Ukraine accused Russia on Wednesday of damaging grain export infrastructure in "hellish" overnight strikes focused on two of its Black Sea ports, vowing not to be intimidated from working to keep grain exports moving out of them.
Russia attacked the Odesa region for the second consecutive night after quitting a year-old deal allowing the safe passage of Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea on Monday. Ukraine said it was setting up a temporary shipping route to Romania.
"Russian terrorists absolutely deliberately targeted the infrastructure of the grain deal," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy 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 Prosecutor General's office said 10 civilians, including a 9-year-old boy, were wounded. Grains terminals were damaged as well as an industrial facility, warehouses, shopping malls, residential and administrative buildings and cars.
Flames and smoke rose from shattered warehouses in video released by the emergencies ministry, which also showed a residential block with shattered windows.
There was no immediate response from Russia, which said on Tuesday it had hit military targets in two Ukrainian port cities overnight as "a mass revenge strike" for a blast that damaged its bridge to Crimea, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014.
Ukraine's air force said on Wednesday 63 missiles and drones had been launched across the country by Russia, mainly focused on infrastructure and military facilities in Odesa region.
Air defences had shot down 37 of them, it said, a lower proportion than it has usually reported over months of attacks.
A considerable part of the grain export infrastructure at Chornomorsk port south west of Odesa was damaged, agriculture minister Mykola Solsky said, adding that 60,000 tons of grain had been destroyed.
The attack was "very powerful, truly massive," Serhiy Bratchuk, spokesperson for the Odesa military administration, said in a voice message on his Telegram channel on Wednesday.
"It was a hellish night," he said.
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.
The Odesa region's three ports were the only ones operating in Ukraine during the war under the UN-brokered Black Sea Grain Initiative - designed to allow Ukrainian grain exports that are vital to global supplies through a Russian blockade of Ukraine's ports.
Ukraine's southern command said warehouses in Odesa storing tobacco and fireworks were also hit.
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.
"A difficult night of air attacks for all of Ukraine, especially in the south, in Odesa," Serhiy Popko, head of the Kyiv's city military administration, said on the Telegram channel. He said Kyiv was attacked and according to preliminary information there was some damage or casualties.
In Crimea a fire broke out a military training ground in the Kirovske district, forcing the evacuation of more than 2,000 people from four settlements, the Russian-installed governor of Crimea said.
Sergei Aksyonov did not give a reason for the blaze.
Telegram channels linked to Russian security services and Ukrainian media said an ammunition depot was on fire at the base after a Ukrainian overnight air attack.
Odesa's military administration spokesman Bratchuk posted two videos of a fire in an uninhabited area, saying, "Enemy ammunition depot. Staryi Krym."
Staryi Krym is a small town in Crimea's Kirovske district.
Ukrainian forces launched a counteroffensive last month to try to drive Russian forces out of its south and east, where they have dug in along a heavily-fortified front line after failing to capture Kyiv in the early days of the invasion.
Ukraine, which recaptured much of its northeastern Kharkiv region last September, said this week that Russia was again on the offensive there and that "heavy fighting" was taking place.
Russia's Defence Ministry said on Wednesday its forces had captured Movchanove railway station in the region, the TASS news agency reported. There was no immediate comment from Ukraine.
Ukraine's military general staff said its forces had captured Russian positions around Bakhmut city further south.
UN WORKS ON IDEAS FOR GRAIN EXPORTS
The United Nations has said there were a "number of ideas being floated" to help get Ukrainian grain and Russian grain and fertilizer to global markets. Moscow's decision raised concern primarily in Africa and Asia of rising food prices and hunger.
The Black Sea deal was brokered by the U.N. and Turkey in July last year to combat a global food crisis worsened by Russia's February 2022 invasion of Ukraine. The two countries are among the world's top grain exporters.
In a July 19 letter to the UN shipping agency, Ukraine said it was setting up a temporary shipping route to maintain grain shipments.
"Its goal is to facilitate the unblocking of international shipping in the north-western part of the Black Sea," Vasyl Shkurakov, Ukraine's acting minister for communities, territories and infrastructure development, said in the letter.
It said the route would lead to the territorial waters and exclusive maritime economic zone of Romania, which neighbours Ukraine to the south.
The Kremlin has said ships crossing the Black Sea without its guarantees would be in danger.
Russia says it could return to the grain deal, but only if its demands are met for rules to be eased for its own exports of food and fertiliser. Western countries call that an attempt to use leverage over food supplies to force a weakening in financial sanctions, which already allow Russia to sell food.
(Additonal reporting by Gleb Garanich and Valentyn Ogirenko in Kyiv, Jonathan Saul in London, Lidia Kelly in Melbourne and Ron Popeski in Winnipeg; Writing by Lidia Kelly and Philippa Fletcher; Editing by Leslie Adler, Stephen Coates, Michael Perry, William Maclean)