Russia destroys 60,000 tonnes of grain in strikes on Ukraine's critical port facilities

It came days after Russian President Vladimir Putin pulled Russia out of its participation in the Black Sea Grain Initiative

A local resident stands next to a crater in a cemetery in Odesa, hit during a missile strike on July 19. AFP
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Russia unleashed intense drone and missile attacks on the Ukrainian port cities of Odesa and Mykolaiv overnight on Wednesday, destroying 60,000 tonnes of grain, according to Ukraine’s Agriculture Ministry.

The bombardment also damaged critical port infrastructure and wounded at least 12 people, officials said.

It came days after Russian President Vladimir Putin pulled Russia out of its participation in the Black Sea Grain Initiative, a wartime deal that enabled Ukraine’s exports to reach many countries facing the threat of hunger.

It also followed a vow by Mr Putin to retaliate against Kyiv for an attack on Monday on the crucial Kerch Bridge linking Russia with the Crimean Peninsula, which the Kremlin illegally annexed in 2014.

Ukraine's Agriculture Ministry, citing experts, estimated it would take a year to restore the facilities damaged. The destroyed grain was supposed to have been loaded on to a vessel and sent through the grain corridor two months ago, the statement said.

"Such attacks by Russian terrorists are not only affecting our country but also global stability,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said during a briefing with the visiting Irish prime minister in Kyiv. He said Ukraine needs more anti-aircraft defence systems to protect the port.

Mr Zelenskyy said his government is trying to find a way to maintain a corridor to keep grain exports flowing despite Russia's decision to abandon the deal brokered with the UN and Turkey.

“The corridor must be secure. In fact, knowing Russia, it won’t be safe unless the U.N. starts working very clearly and firmly at the level of the secretary-general," he said.

Agriculture Minister Mykola Solskyi warned that if Ukraine cannot export food, "the population of the poorest countries will be on the brink of survival! The price of grain will increase, and not all countries will be able to afford buying agricultural products, which means food prices will significantly rise: flour, cereals, meat”.

Wheat prices rose more than 2.5 per cent on Tuesday and nearly 8 per cent on Wednesday amid the attacks in Odesa, a key hub for exporting grain, illustrating jitters in global markets. Wednesday’s trading price of $7.23 a bushel still was nearly 80 per cent below last year’s peak.

Mr Putin said on Wednesday that Russia could return to the grain deal if the West offers Russian banks involved in servicing payments for the country's agricultural exports an immediate access to the Swift payment system, adding that Moscow wants its conditions met, not “some promises and ideas.”

The Russian leader also listed other Russian demands, including a lifting of insurance and shipping restrictions that affect Russian agricultural exports and a resumption of Moscow's export of ammonia to Odesa via a pipeline, a section of which was blown up last month.

Updated: July 20, 2023, 4:42 AM