Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky has accused Russia of “barbarism” after missiles hit the southern port of Odesa, threatening a deal signed just a day earlier to unblock grain exports from Black Sea ports and ease global food shortages caused by the war.
Barely 12 hours after Moscow signed a deal with Kyiv to allow monitored grain exports from Ukraine’s southern ports, Russia targeted Odesa – through which shipments would take place – with cruise missile strikes.
Zelensky called the attack blatant “barbarism”, showing Moscow could not be trusted to implement the deal.
“This proves only one thing: no matter what Russia says and promises, it will find ways not to implement it,” he said during a meeting with US lawmakers, according to a statement from the presidency.
Eyewitness footage posted on social media, taken in the port area, showed one of the missiles exploding close to the seafront behind rows of containers and not far from a docked ship.
The strikes on Odesa drew strong condemnation from the United Nations, the European Union, the United States, Britain, Germany and Italy.
US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said in a statement that “this attack casts serious doubt on the credibility of Russia’s commitment to yesterday’s deal”.
“Russia bears responsibility for deepening the global food crisis and must stop its aggression,” he added.The British foreign secretary, Liz Truss, said the “appalling” attack hours after the deal was signed was “completely unwarranted” and proof that the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, could not be trusted.
Turkey’s defense minister said Russian officials told Ankara that Moscow had “nothing to do” with the strikes. Neither Russian defence ministry statements nor the military’s evening summary mentioned missile strikes in Odesa. The ministry did not reply to a Reuters request for comment.
On Friday, UN officials said they hoped the agreement would be operational in a few weeks. Public broadcaster Suspilne quoted Ukraine’s southern military command as saying the port’s grain storage area was not hit.
“Unfortunately there are wounded. The port’s infrastructure was damaged,” said Odesa region governor Maksym Marchenko.
But the infrastructure minister, Oleksandr Kubrakov, said on Facebook that “we continue technical preparations for the launch of exports of agricultural products from our ports”.
Russia and Ukraine are important global wheat suppliers and the war has sent food prices soaring. A global food crisis has pushed 47 million people into “acute hunger”, according to the World Food Programme.
Friday’s deal seeks to avert famine in poorer countries by putting more wheat, sunflower oil, fertilizer, and other products into world markets, including for humanitarian needs, partly at lower prices.
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The attack was one of a series of Russian strikes across Ukraine, with the city of Kropyvnytskyi hit by 13 missiles on Saturday morning. The local governor, Andriy Raikovych, said at least one serviceman and two guards were killed, while 13 other people were wounded in Kropyvnytskyi.
Local people in the city said the strikes targeted an airbase on the outskirts, as well as a railway substation.
Strikes were also reported in Kharkiv, where a residential area was hit, killing at least three people, and in the southern city of Mykolaiv.
The sudden rise in Russian missile attacks follows several days of relative quiet in Ukraine. In the southern Kherson region, which Russian troops seized early in the invasion, Ukrainian forces preparing for a potential counteroffensive fired rockets at crossings on the Dnieper River to try to disrupt supplies to the Russians, amid claims that Ukrainian troops near the city had surrounded a Russian formation.
Fighting raged unabated in eastern Ukraine’s industrial heartland of Donbas, where Russian forces tried to make gains in the face of stiff Ukrainian resistance.
Also on Saturday, the US state department confirmed that two Americans were killed recently in Ukraine’s Donbas region but declined to provide details.
A US congressional delegation that met Zelenskiy in Kyiv promised continued support. Adam Smith, chair of the House Armed Services Committee, was quoted as telling Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that Washington and its allies aimed to provide more multiple rocket launch systems.