Russia pummels Odessa with air strikes

KYIV, Ukraine — Russia pounded the southern Ukrainian port of Odessa early Wednesday morning — the second overnight attack in a row after Moscow terminated an agreement that allowed Ukraine to export its grain from its Black Sea ports.

Local officials called the bombardment “hellish” and “never-ending” but there were no immediate reports that anyone had been killed.

The assault also came two days after Russia promised retaliation for Kyiv’s maritime strike on the Crimean Bridge, which links Russia to Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula that Moscow invaded and illegally annexed in 2014.

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

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

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

South Africa announced Wednesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin would not attend a diplomatic summit next month in the country “by mutual agreement” — thereby sidestepping the thorny question of whether Putin could be arrested under a warrant of the International Criminal Court.

Local officials said Russian forces on Wednesday hit Odessa’s loading infrastructure and grain and oil terminals, 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 full-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 Kanatovo air base in the Kirovohrad region.

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

Ukrainian Agriculture Minister Mykola Solskyi said that the attacks “knocked out a significant part of the grain export infrastructure” in the nearby port of Chornomorsk.

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

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

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

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U.N. spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said Wednesday that Secretary General António Guterres would “continue to explore all possible avenues to ensure that Ukrainian grain, Russian grain and Russian fertilizer are out into the global market.”

The barrage also targeted other locations across 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” which “seemed to be never-ending.”

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

Officials reported no deaths, but said a number of people were injured, including a 9-year-old boy.

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

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