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Russian missiles target Odesa hours after deal to allow grain exports from port

Odesa was targeted by Russia shells earlier this month (Nina Lyashonok/AP)
Odesa was targeted by Russia shells earlier this month (Nina Lyashonok/AP)

Russian missiles have hit Ukraine’s Black Sea port of Odesa, just hours after Moscow and Kyiv signed deals to allow grain exports to resume from the southern city.

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry denounced Saturday’s strike 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 said. It did not specify the damage or say whether the strike caused casualties.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko said: “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.

“In case of non-fulfilment, Russia will bear full responsibility for a global food crisis.”

Mr 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”.

Grain deals signed
The attack came hours after the signing of an agreement to allow grain shipments to leave the port (Vadim Savitsky/ Russian Defence Ministry Press Service/AP)

Mr 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 in need around the globe. Full implementation by the Russian Federation, Ukraine and Turkey is imperative.”

During a ceremony to sign the agreements in Istanbul on Friday, Mr Guterres hailed the deals to open Ukraine’s ports in Odesa, Chernomorsk and Yuzhny to commercial food exports as “a beacon of hope, a beacon of possibility, a beacon of relief in a world that needs it more than ever”.

The agreements were intended to clear the way for the shipment of millions of tons of Ukrainian grain and some Russian exports of grain and fertiliser held up 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.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his nightly video address on Friday that the agreements offer “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 Mr Zelensky’s office, Andriy Yermak, said on Twitter on Saturday that the Odesa strike coming so soon after the endorsement of the Black Sea ports deal illustrates “the Russian diplomatic dichotomy”.

US 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.”

As well as the strike on Odesa, Russia’s military also fired a barrage of missiles on Saturday at an airfield 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.

Ukrainian checkpoint
A Ukrainian police officer checks the documents of a man and woman riding their bikes at a checkpoint in Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine (Nariman El-Mofty/AP)

In Ukraine’s central Kirovohradska region, 13 Russian missiles struck an airfield and a railway facility.

Governor Andriy Raikovych said 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 counter-offensive fired rockets at Dnieper River crossings to try to disrupt supplies to the Russians.

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

Russian troops have also faced Ukrainian counter-attacks but largely held their ground in the Kherson region, just north of the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014.

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

Grain field
Millions of tons of Ukrainian grain held up by the war should now be able to be shipped out of the country (Nariman El-Mofty/AP)

Mr 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 it was not damaged.

The rocket system, which fires GPS-guided rockets at targets 50 miles 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 a road bridge across the Inhulets River in the village of Darivka, Mr Stremousov told Tass. He said the bridge just east of the regional capital of Kherson sustained seven hits but remained open to traffic.

Mr 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 minister Sergey Lavrov emphasised on Wednesday that Moscow plans to retain control of other areas its forces occupy during the war.