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Russia Attacks Cities on the Black Sea as It Tries to Seal Off Ukrainian Ports

Carrying belongings past the site of a destroyed building after a Russian attack in Odesa, Ukraine, on Thursday.Credit…Libkos/Associated Press

Russia unleashed another night of attacks against Ukrainian port cities early Thursday, a day after warning that all ships headed to those ports could be treated as hostile, in what appeared to be intensifying efforts to block Ukraine’s ability to export grain across the Black Sea.

At least 19 people, including one child, were injured in the city center of Mykolaiv, a port city a short distance up an estuary off the Black Sea, after an explosion sparked a fire at a residential building, according to Vitaly Kim, the head of the regional military administration.

The nearby port city of Odesa, already reeling from two nights of some of the biggest assaults on the city since the beginning of the war, was also targeted, resulting in a large fire in the city center, according to the regional military administrator.

Buildings had been hit and at least one person had been found dead under the rubble, Oleh Kiper, the regional governor of Odesa, said in a post on the Telegram messaging app. At least two people were injured.

The attacks come after Russia this week backed out of a deal that allowed for the shipment of grain from the region’s ports, fueling concern that food prices would rise globally. Ukrainian officials have accused Russia of using such shipments as leverage in the war, trying to extend the repercussions of the conflict to the rest of the world.

Russia’s Ministry of Defense on Wednesday issued a warning to shipping operators and other nations suggesting that any attempt to bypass the blockade might be seen as an act of war, saying that ships heading to Ukrainian ports would be considered “potential carriers of military cargo.” The statement sent wheat prices skyrocketing.

Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense responded on Thursday with its own warning, saying that ships heading to Russian ports or occupied Ukrainian territory would be seen as carrying “military cargo, with all the corresponding risks.”

“By openly threatening civilian ships carrying food from Ukrainian ports, launching missile and drone attacks on civilian infrastructure in peaceful cities, and deliberately creating a military threat on trade routes, the Kremlin has turned the Black Sea into a danger zone” for Russian ships, it said.

The Black Sea Grain Initiative enabled food exports from Ukraine, one of the world’s major exporters of wheat, corn, sunflower seeds and vegetable oil, to reach global markets, tempering prices and easing shortages.

Wednesday’s missile and drone attacks appeared to home in on Ukraine’s grain export infrastructure, Ukrainian officials said. In Chornomorsk, just south of Odesa, 60,000 tons of grain waiting to be loaded on to ships was destroyed in the attack, according to Ukraine’s agricultural minister. That is enough to feed more than 270,000 people for a year, according to the World Food Program.

Josep Borrell Fontelles, the European Union’s top diplomat, harshly criticized Russia, saying that not only had Moscow withdrawn from the grain agreement, “but they are burning the grain,” too.

“What we already know is that this is going to create a big, a huge food crisis in the world,” he told reporters ahead of an E.U. meeting in Brussels.

In Thursday’s attack, Russian forces launched 19 cruise missiles and 19 drones overnight from the Black Sea and Crimea. Of those, five missiles and 13 drones were intercepted, Ukraine’s Air Force said.

Mr. Kiper said 12 drones and two missiles had been shot down over Odesa, but added that it was “not possible to destroy all the missiles, in particular, supersonic missiles,” which he said were “extremely difficult” to destroy.

He said the Russian attack had also damaged the Chinese Consulate in Odesa. “This suggests that the enemy does not pay attention to anything,” he said, in an apparent reference to Russia’s deepening relationship with China. The claim could not be immediately verified, and Beijing did not immediately comment.


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