Grain storage facilities at the Odesa port were not damaged in an attack early Saturday, the Ukrainian military’s Southern Command said.
“It took less than 24 hours for Russia to launch a missile attack on Odesa’s port, breaking its promises and undermining its commitments before the U.N. and Turkey under the Istanbul agreement,” Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko said on Twitter. “In case of non-fulfillment, Russia will bear full responsibility for a global food crisis.”
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said Russian officials had told Ankara that Moscow had “nothing to do” with the strikes on the port, Reuters reported. A Russian defense ministry statement on Saturday outlining progress in the war did not mention a strike on Odesa. The ministry did not reply to a Reuters request for comment.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the Russian strike on Odesa demonstrates that Moscow will find ways not to implement the grain deal struck with the United Nations, Turkey and Ukraine.
“This proves only one thing: no matter what Russia says and promises, it will find ways not to implement it,” Zelenskyy said in a video posted on Telegram.
The attack came mere hours after the two countries had signed an agreement to resume shipments of millions of tons of Ukrainian grain to help ease a global food crisis.
It was not clear how Saturday’s airstrikes would affect the agreement, signed by Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the U.N. to begin shipping Ukrainian grain through safe corridors from the Black Sea ports of Odesa, Chernomorsk and Yuzhny.
Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said on Facebook Saturday that “we continue technical preparations for the launch of exports of agricultural products from our ports,” Reuters reported. The Kyiv Independent reported that the Ukrainian Ministry of Agriculture said grain was expected to be exported in the next couple of days.
The U.N. secretary-general strongly condemned the reported strikes.
“Yesterday, all parties made clear commitments on the global stage to ensure the safe movement of Ukrainian grain and related products to global markets,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement delivered by spokesman Farhan Haq.
“These products are desperately needed to address the global food crisis and ease the suffering of millions of people in need around the globe. Full implementation by the Russian Federation, Ukraine and Turkey is imperative,” the statement read.
It was not clear what the U.N. or Turkey would do in response to the strike Saturday.
U.S. Ambassador to Kyiv Bridget Brink called the strike “outrageous.”
“Russia strikes the port city of Odesa less than 24 hours after signing an agreement to allow shipments of agricultural exports. The Kremlin continues to weaponize food. Russia must be held to account,” she said on Twitter.
Russia’s defense ministry made no official comment. A Russian defense ministry statement Saturday outlining progress in the war did not mention the Odesa.
But Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova reposted the U.N. condemnation and said: “It is awful that U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres does not ‘unequivocally’ condemn also the Kyiv regime’s killing of children in Donbas.”
Ukraine is a leading grain exporter, producing enough to feed 400 million people a year, but about 20 million tons of its grain has been trapped for months in silos and on ships blockaded by Russia in the Black Sea.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister Kubrakov took turns at the table Friday signing the deal, known as the Black Sea Initiative. It was also signed by Turkey’s defense minister and the U.N. secretary-general, as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan looked on.
“This joint step we are taking today in Istanbul, together with Russia and Ukraine, will be a new turning point that will revive the hopes for peace, this is my sincere hope,” Erdogan said Friday, adding that he hoped the “friendly and peaceful atmosphere” built on the Black Sea Initiative could eventually lead to transformative steps to end the war.
The initial agreement was set to last 120 days, but a U.N. official said it would have to continue as long as the war does.
The United Nations had been working for months with Ukrainian and Russian officials on two parallel tracks: one to lift the Russian blockade on Ukraine’s southern Black Sea ports, the other to facilitate unimpeded access for Russian food and fertilizer to world markets. Russia is also a leading grain exporter and the top global fertilizer producer. Since the war, the price of fertilizer on the global market has doubled, in turn driving up the cost of crops.
Just before the public signing of the grain deal, the U.N. chief and the Russian defense minister privately signed a memorandum of understanding to address the disruptions to the trade of Russian food and fertilizer.
The deal was hailed as a breakthrough, after nearly five months of punishing fighting since Russia invaded its neighbor, and critical to curbing soaring food prices.
The deal could see Ukrainian ships begin to move again within the next few weeks.
The U.N. says 276 million people were severely food insecure before Russia’s February 24 invasion; now officials project the number to be 345 million. It was expected that the deal will bring relief to millions who have been struggling with rising food prices as a result of the war.
VOA’s National Security Correspondent Jeff Seldin contributed to this report. Some information came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.
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