KYIV, Ukraine — Russia pounded Ukraine’s southern cities Thursday with drones and missiles for a third consecutive night, targeting some of the country’s critical grain export infrastructure and helping to drive up food prices in countries facing hunger.
At least two people in the besieged port city of Odesa were killed in the strikes, which came days after President Vladimir Putin pulled Russia out of a wartime deal that allowed Ukraine to send grain to some needy countries.
The attacks came after Moscow vowed “retribution” earlier this week for an attack that damaged a crucial bridge between Russia and the Moscow-annexed Crimean Peninsula. Russian officials blamed that strike on Ukrainian drone boats.
Odesa Gov. Oleh Kiper said Ukrainian air defenses destroyed all of the 12 Iranian-made Shahed drones and two Kalibr missiles that targeted Odesa.
But he added that air defense systems were unable to shoot down some incoming missiles, in particular the X-22 and Onyx types. He didn’t say how many missiles got through. The Russian military described its strikes on Ukraine’s southern city of Odesa as “retaliatory.”
The Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement that it targeted “production shops and storage sites for unmanned boats” in Odesa and the nearby city of Chornomorsk. In the Mykolaiv area, the Russian military claimed to have destroyed Ukraine’s fuel infrastructure facilities and ammunition depots. Neither sides’ claims could be independently verified.
The two people who died in Odesa were a 21-year-old security guard and another person who was found dead under rubble by a search-and-rescue operation, according to Kiper, who said the strikes had destroyed administrative and residential buildings near the port.
In Mykolaiv, another southern city close to the Black Sea, at least 19 people were injured overnight, the region’s Governor Vitalii Kim said in a statement on Telegram. Russian strikes partially destroyed one building and started a large blaze. Two people were hospitalized, including a child, according to the regional governor.
Targeted Russian Attacks Destroy Grain Stocks
The previous night, an intense Russian bombardment using drones and missiles damaged critical port infrastructure in Odesa, including grain and oil terminals. The attack destroyed at least 60,000 tons of grain.
The European Union’s foreign affairs chief condemned Russia’s targeting of grain storage facilities.
“More than 60,000 tons of grain has been burned,” Josep Borrell said in Brussels on Thursday, regarding Moscow’s recent tactics. “So not only they withdraw from the grain agreement … but they are burning the grain.”
German Foreign Affairs Minister Annalena Baerbock said at the same meeting that the EU is involved in international efforts to get Ukrainian grain to the world market.
“The fact that the Russian president has canceled the grain agreement and is now bombing the port of Odesa is not only another attack on Ukraine, but an attack on the people, on the poorest people in the world,” she said. “Hundreds of thousands of people, not to say millions, urgently need grain from Ukraine.”
The White House warned Wednesday that Russia is preparing possible attacks on civilian shipping vessels in the Black Sea. The warning could alarm shippers and further drive up grain prices.
Russia has laid additional sea mines in the approaches to Ukrainian ports, White House National Security Council spokesman Adam Hodge said in a statement. “We believe that this is a coordinated effort to justify any attacks against civilian ships in the Black Sea and lay blame on Ukraine for these attacks,” the statement said.
Carlos Mera, head of agricultural commodities markets at Rabobank, said wheat prices have risen about 17% over the last week, calling it a surprising rise that started even before the grain deal ended Monday and attributing it to “a little bit of panic.”
A lot of the wheat exported from Ukraine goes to very poor countries, such as those in North Africa, he said. People in those places are already struggling with food insecurity and high local food prices. Russia, meanwhile, has been exporting record amounts of wheat in recent months despite complaints its agricultural exports have been hindered.
There is “a vast list of underdeveloped countries that depend on Ukrainian and Russian wheat,” Mera said. “And with prices going up, people will have to pay more for that wheat, which means more expensive bread in those countries.”
Russia has blasted Ukrainian towns and cities since the start of the war in February 2022. Kyiv’s Western allies have helped upgrade Ukraine’s air defense systems. The latest military aid package from the United States, announced by the Pentagon on Wednesday, includes funding for four National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System, or NASAMS, and munitions for them.
In the Russian-annexed territory of Crimea, meanwhile, “an enemy drone” — an apparent reference to Ukraine — attacked a settlement in the peninsula’s northwest, the region’s Moscow-appointed governor Sergei Aksyonov reported Thursday. He said that the attack damaged several administrative buildings and killed a teenage girl.