Ukraine's military says Russian missiles hit Black Sea port of Odesa

Report of attack comes a day after the two countries signed agreement to resume grain shipments from Ukraine

Firefighters working to put out flames at the port of Odesa, southern Ukraine. EPA
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Moscow has broken its silence on the Odesa strikes which drew international condemnation, saying Kalibr cruise missiles had destroyed a Ukrainian “military infrastructure facility” in the Black Sea port.

Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, issued a statement on Telegram on Sunday, a day after Ukraine’s military said the strategic port had come under attack.

Odesa was targeted after Moscow and Kyiv on Friday signed an agreement to ensure safe shipping of grain from Ukrainian ports.

“The enemy attacked the Odesa seaport with Kalibr cruise missiles. Two of the missiles were shot down by air defences. Two hit port infrastructure,” Sergiy Bratchuk, a representative of the Odesa region, said on social media.

It was not immediately clear whether there was damage to the port's grain-loading installations.

Ukraine Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko said the attack showed Russia was reneging on its commitments.

“The Russian missile is Vladimir Putin's spit in the face of UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and Turkish President Recep Erdogan, who went to great lengths to reach an agreement and to whom Ukraine is grateful,” he said.

Ukrainian officials posted a video showing the aftermath of the attack. Two Russian Kalibr cruise missiles hit the port’s infrastructure and air defences brought down two others, the Ukrainian military’s Southern Command said.

Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar had previously said Moscow denied carrying out any attack.

“The Russians told us that they had absolutely nothing to do with this attack and they were looking into the issue very closely,” Mr Akar said.

A spokesman for the Mr Guterres said he “unequivocally condemns the reported strikes in Odesa”, and that all parties had committed to the deal signed on Friday for the export of grains from Ukrainian ports.

“These products are desperately needed to address the global food crisis and ease the suffering of millions of people in need,” Farhan Haq said. “Full implementation by the Russian Federation, Ukraine and Turkey is imperative.”

The UN and Turkey on Friday witnessed the signing of agreements by Russia and Ukraine that would open up Black Sea shipping lanes and allow about 20 million tonnes of stockpiled grain to reach markets.

The agreements cleared the way for shipments from the Ukrainian ports of Odesa, Chernomorsk and Yuzhny, Mr Guterres said at the signing ceremony in Istanbul.

US ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink said the attack on the Odesa port was “outrageous”.

“Russia strikes the port city of Odesa less than 24 hours after signing an agreement to allow shipments of agricultural exports. The Kremlin continues to weaponise food. Russia must be held to account,” Ms Brink tweeted.

UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said: “It is absolutely appalling that only a day after striking this deal, Vladimir Putin has launched a completely unwarranted attack on Odesa.

“It shows that not a word he says can be trusted. And we need to urgently work with our international partners to find a better way of getting the grain out of Ukraine that doesn't involve Russia and their broken promises.”

The European Union also criticised the attack. “Striking a target crucial for grain export a day after the signature of Istanbul agreements is particularly reprehensible and again demonstrates Russia's total disregard for international law and commitments,” said EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.

Under the agreements, Ukrainian officials will guide ships through safe channels across mined waters to the three ports where they would be loaded with grain.

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Huge quantities of wheat and other grain have been blocked in Ukrainian ports by Russian warships and landmines Kyiv has laid to avert an amphibious assault.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, who attended the signing ceremony in Istanbul, told Kremlin state media he expected the deal to start working “in the next few days”, although international aid agencies and diplomats expect grain to start fully flowing by mid-August.

The deal was the first major diplomatic breakthrough of the war in Ukraine and was widely welcomed as a way to restore one of the world's most important grain routes and stabilise food prices that have soared after Russian forces invaded the country in February.

Dr Anwar Gargash, diplomatic adviser to the UAE President, described it as a positive step that underlined the need for a political solution to the crisis.

“The grain export agreement signed by Moscow and Kiev in Istanbul is a positive step in the protracted war. This is a positive achievement for Turkish diplomacy, and it reaffirms the need to reach a political solution to the crisis. Escalation is not in the interest of the international system and an urgent peaceful solution is necessary,” Dr Gargash wrote on Twitter.

Elsewhere in Ukraine, Russia’s military fired a barrage of missiles at an airfield and a railway centre on Saturday, killing at least three people, while Ukrainian forces launched rocket strikes on river crossings in a Russian-occupied southern region.

The aftermath of a Russian missile strike at the National Academy of Urban Economy in Kharkiv, Ukraine. Reuters

In Ukraine’s central Kirovohradska region, 13 Russian missiles struck an airfield and a railway centre. Governor Andriy Raikovych said that at least one soldier and two guards were killed. The regional administration said strikes near the city of Kirovohrad wounded another 13 people.

In the southern Kherson region, which Russian troops seized early in the conflict, Ukrainian forces preparing for a potential counteroffensive fired rockets at Dnieper River crossings to try to disrupt supplies to the Russians.

Despite the progress on that front, fighting 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 also have faced Ukrainian counter-attacks but largely held their ground in the Kherson region north of the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014.

This week, Ukrainian forces bombarded the Antonivskyi Bridge across the Dnieper River using the US-supplied High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (Himars), said Kirill Stremousov, deputy head of the Russia-appointed regional administration in Kherson.

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 was not damaged.

Himars, which can send GPS-guided rockets 80 kilometres, a distance that puts it out of reach of most Russian artillery systems, has improved the Ukrainian strike capability.

In addition, Ukrainian forces shelled a 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.

Since April, Russia 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 said Moscow planned to retain control of other areas its forces occupy during the war.

Updated: July 24, 2022, 2:16 PM
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