KYIV: Russian missiles hit infrastructure in Odesa in southern Ukraine on Saturday, the Ukrainian military said, dealing a blow to a landmark deal signed just the day before to unblock grain exports from Black Sea ports and ease global food shortages caused by the war.
The deal signed on Friday by Moscow and Kyiv and mediated by the United Nations and Turkey was hailed as a breakthough after nearly five months of punishing fighting since Russia invaded its neighbor. It is seen as crucial to curbing soaring global food prices by allowing grain exports to be shipped from Black Sea ports including Odesa.
UN officials had said on Friday they hoped the agreement would be operational in a few weeks but it was not yet clear if that would still be possible given Saturday’s strikes.
Two Russian Kalibr missiles hit infrastructure at the Odesa port, while another two were shot down by air defense forces, Ukraine’s Operational Command South wrote on the Telegram messaging app.
“In the context of what is currently happening with Ukrainian grain, the strike was carried out exactly where the grain is,” said Yuriy Ignat, spokesperson for the Ukrainian air force.
The cruise missiles were fired from warships in the Black Sea near Crimea, he added.
A Russian defense ministry statement on Saturday outlining progress in the war did not mention any strike in Odesa. The ministry did not immediately reply to a Reuters request for comment.
The strike appeared to violate the terms of Friday’s deal, which would allow safe passage in and out of Odesa and two other Ukrainian ports.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “unequivocally condemned” the reported strikes, a spokesperson said, adding that all parties had committed to the grain export deal.
“These products are desperately needed to address the global food crisis and ease the suffering of millions of people in need around the globe,” spokesperson Farhan Haq said in a statement.
“Full implementation by the Russian Federation, Ukraine and Turkey is imperative.”
On Friday, Guterres had called the deal “a beacon on the Black Sea.”
A blockade of Ukrainian ports by Russia’s Black Sea fleet since Moscow’s Feb. 24 invasion of its neighbor has trapped tens of millions of tons of grain and stranded many ships. This has worsened global supply chain bottlenecks and, along with Western sanctions on Russia, stoked food and energy price inflation.
Friday’s export deal seeks to avert famine among tens of millions of people in poorer nations by injecting more wheat, sunflower oil, fertilizer and other products into world markets including for humanitarian needs, partly at lower prices.