Russia pummels Odessa with air strikes

Kiev, Ukraine — Russia struck the port of Odessa in southern Ukraine early Wednesday, the second overnight attack in a row after Moscow terminated an agreement allowing Ukraine to export its grain from its Black Sea ports.

Local officials described the shelling as “hellish” and “endless,” but there were no immediate reports that anyone had been killed.

The assault also came two days after Russia vowed retaliation for Kiev’s naval attack on the Crimean bridge, which links Russia to Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula that Moscow illegally invaded and annexed in 2014.

On Wednesday, however, Ukrainian officials made a direct connection between the end of the grain deal and the attacks on Odessa port infrastructure. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky wrote on social media that Russia “absolutely deliberately targeted the infrastructure of the grain deal.”

“Every Russian missile is a blow not only to Ukraine, but also to everyone who seeks a normal and safe life,” Zelensky said.

Tensions over Ukraine’s grain shipments also underscore Kiev and Moscow’s ongoing battle for influence and sympathy between countries outside the orbit of the United States and the European Union.

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Local authorities said Russian forces hit Odessa’s cargo infrastructure and grain and oil terminals on Wednesday, in an attack that lasted hours and came in waves.

“One of the most horrible nights,” Odessa Mayor Gennadiy Trukhanov wrote on Facebook. “We do not recall such a scale of attack since the beginning of the large-scale invasion.”

Russian officials confirmed the attack, which they said was “a group strike” on “defense industry facilities, fuel infrastructure and ammunition depots” near Odessa and the Kanatovo airbase in the Kirovohrad region.

“The attack has achieved its goal and all designated targets have been hit,” Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said.

Ukraine’s Agriculture Minister Mykola Solskyi said the attacks “eliminated a significant part of the grain export infrastructure” in the nearby port of Chornomorsk.

He also said that some 60,000 tons of grain, which were waiting to be shipped under the now defunct agreement, were destroyed.

On Monday, Moscow officials, claiming their conditions were not being met, unilaterally terminated the deal, which had been negotiated by Turkey and the United Nations nearly a year ago.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Wednesday that as of midnight Russian time, ships traveling to Ukrainian ports across the Black Sea would be considered potential carriers of military cargo.

“Flag countries of ships sailing in Ukrainian Black Sea ports will be considered involved in the conflict” alongside Kiev, the ministry said in a statement posted on social media.

At the same time, President Vladimir Putin said Russia would lift its blockade once its conditions were met.

“The West profited shamelessly from the grain deal. It just completely distorted the meaning of these agreements and their essence,” he said.

Agricultural production makes up a large part of Ukraine’s economy, and its grain exports are an important source of food for developing countries, especially in the Middle East and Africa, Western and Ukrainian officials said.

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UN spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said Wednesday that Secretary-General António Guterres “will continue to explore all possible avenues to ensure that Ukrainian grain, Russian grain and Russian fertilizers reach the world market.”

The bombing also targeted other locations in Ukraine, though Odessa bore the brunt of the attack, officials said. Ukraine’s air force said in a Telegram post that Moscow launched 30 cruise missiles and 32 self-destructing drones, of which 16 missiles and 23 drones were intercepted.

Serhiy Bratchuk, a spokesman for the Odessa Military Administration, said in a video posted on Telegram that the attack was the “most hellish night in the Odessa region” and “seemed like it was never ending.”

The head of the Odessa regional administration, Oleh Kiper, said that in addition to the strikes on port infrastructure, there was significant damage throughout the city of Odessa, including residential neighborhoods, tourist facilities on the coast, an “industrial facility” and two tobacco and fireworks warehouses.

Officials did not report any deaths, but said several people were injured, including a 9-year-old boy.

Kiev’s military administration said air defenses shot down all the drones that were launched into the capital, and no casualties or damage were reported. Serhiy Popko, head of Kiev’s military administration, said it was “a difficult night of airstrikes for all of Ukraine.”

Meanwhile, Russian officials said a fire broke out early Wednesday at a military training camp in Crimea. Sergei Aksyonov, the Russian-appointed head of the occupied region, said that while there were no casualties, more than 2,200 people were being evacuated from nearby villages. The cause of the fire is still unknown, he said.

Natalia Abbakumova in Riga, Latvia contributed to this report.

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