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Ukraine scrambles to resume grain exports, flags Russian strikes as risk

Ukraine on Sunday continued efforts to revive grain exports from its Black Sea ports as part of a deal to ease global food shortages, but warned deliveries would suffer if a Russian missile strike on Odessa was one more sign to come.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy denounced Saturday’s attack as “barbarism” that showed Moscow could not be trusted to implement a deal reached just a day earlier with Turkish and United Nations mediation.

The Ukrainian army, quoted by the public television channel Suspilne, said that the Russian missiles did not hit the grain storage area at the port or cause significant damage. Kyiv said preparations to resume grain shipments were underway.

“We are continuing technical preparations for the launch of exports of agricultural products from our ports,” Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said in a Facebook post. Russia said its forces hit a Ukrainian warship and an arms store in Odessa with its high-precision missiles.

The agreement signed Friday by Moscow and Kyiv was hailed as a diplomatic breakthrough that would help curb soaring global food prices by restoring Ukrainian grain shipments to pre-war levels of 5 million tonnes per month.

But Zelenskyy’s economic adviser warned on Sunday that the strike in Odessa signals it could be out of reach. “Yesterday’s strike indicates that it will definitely not work like that,” Oleh Ustenko told Ukrainian television.

He said Ukraine had the capacity to export 60 million tonnes of grain over the next nine months, but it would take up to 24 months if its ports could not function properly.

The war enters the sixth month

As the war entered its sixth month on Sunday, there was no sign of letting up in the fighting. The Ukrainian military reported Russian shelling in the north, south and east, and again referred to Russian operations paving the way for an assault on Bakhmut in the eastern Donbass region.

Ukraine’s air force command said its forces shot down three Russian Kalibr cruise missiles early on Sunday, fired from the Black Sea and aimed at the western Khmelnytskyi region.

While the main theater of fighting has been the Donbass, Zelenskyy said in a video on Saturday that Ukrainian forces were moving “step by step” through the occupied Kherson region in the eastern Black Sea.

The strikes on Odessa have been condemned by the United Nations, European Union, United States, Britain, Germany and Italy. Russian news agencies quoted the Russian Defense Ministry as saying that a Ukrainian warship and anti-ship missiles supplied by the United States had been destroyed.

“A moored Ukrainian warship and a warehouse with Harpoon anti-ship missiles supplied by the United States were destroyed by long-range precision-guided naval missiles in the seaport of Odessa on the territory of a ship repair plant,” he said.

On Saturday, Turkey’s defense minister said Russian officials had told Ankara that Moscow had “nothing to do” with the strikes. According to the Ukrainian army, two Kalibr missiles fired from Russian warships hit the area of ​​a port pumping station and two others were shot down by air defense forces.

safe passage

Friday’s agreement aims to allow safe passage in and out of Ukrainian ports, blocked by the Russian Black Sea Fleet since the February 24 invasion of Moscow, as part of what a UN official called it a “de facto ceasefire” for covered ships and installations.

Ukraine and Russia are the world’s top wheat exporters and the blockade has trapped tens of millions of tonnes of grain, worsening bottlenecks in the global supply chain.

Along with Western sanctions on Russia, it has fueled inflation in food and energy prices, plunging some 47 million people into “acute hunger”, according to the World Food Programme.

Moscow denies any responsibility for the food crisis, accusing the sanctions of slowing down its food and fertilizer exports and Ukraine of having mined the approaches to its ports.

Ukraine has mined the waters near its ports as part of its wartime defences, but under Friday’s agreement pilots will guide vessels along safe channels.

A joint coordination center made up of members of the four parties to the agreement is to monitor ships passing from the Black Sea to Turkey’s Bosphorus Strait and global markets. All parties agreed on Friday that there would be no attacks against them.

Putin calls the war a “special military operation” aimed at demilitarizing Ukraine and rooting out dangerous nationalists. Kyiv and the West call it a baseless pretext for aggressive land grabbing.

(Edited by : Sangam Sing)


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