- Kyiv put ships in the Black Sea headed for Russian-controlled ports on alert, as Moscow hit the Ukrainian ports of Mykolaiv and Odesa with drones and missiles.
- At least three people died and more than 20 were injured in the Russian strikes on the southern Ukrainian ports.
- Russia pounded the cities with 19 missiles and 19 drones, the Ukrainian air force said.
Kyiv on Thursday put ships in the Black Sea headed for Russian-controlled ports on alert, as Moscow hit the Ukrainian ports of Mykolaiv and Odesa with drones and missiles in another night of “hellish” strikes.
Ukraine said it would treat the ships as potential carriers of military cargo, mirroring a move made by Russia after it withdrew from a key grain export deal.
At least three people died and more than 20 were injured in the Russian strikes on the southern Ukrainian ports, officials said, posting images of buildings in flames and partially collapsed.
Russia pounded the cities with 19 missiles and 19 drones, the Ukrainian air force said, after the Kremlin promised retribution for an attack on the bridge linking annexed Crimea to mainland Russia.
“A hellish night for our people!” said Sergiy Kruk, head of the Ukrainian State Emergency Service.
In Odesa, a man was found “under the rubble”, regional governor Oleg Kiper said, while in Mykolaiv an elderly couple were killed.
Rescue teams in Mykolaiv searched through the debris under pouring rain to find survivors after missiles struck the centre.
Oleksiy Luganchenko, 72, stood outside a collapsed building in the city, saying the deceased couple were his sister and her husband.
Who needs this war? I’d told them they should leave and now they have died.
Iryna Personova, 65, said her apartment had been destroyed. “I’ve lived here for 40 years, there’s not a single military target nearby,” she told AFP.
Russia said it had carried out the “retaliatory strikes” against military infrastructure around the two cities.
A production site for seaborne drones was hit around Odesa, while “fuel and ammunition depots of Ukraine’s armed forces” were struck near Mykolaiv.
Ukrainian rescuers hosed down a destroyed residential building after a missile strike in the centre of Mykolaiv on 20 July 2023, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
But Ukraine has accused Russia of targeting grain supplies and infrastructure vital to the Black Sea deal which collapsed earlier this week.
A previous strike had destroyed 60 000 tonnes of grain meant for export from the major global producer, the Ukrainian agriculture ministry said.
Moscow’s invasion last year saw Ukraine’s Black Sea ports blocked by warships until the two sides agreed to the grain export deal, brokered by the United Nations and Turkey.
The agreement enabled the export of more than 32 million tonnes of Ukrainian grain over the last year, bringing relief to countries facing critical food shortages such as Sudan, Afghanistan and Yemen.
But Moscow said Monday it was exiting the deal, after months of complaining that provisions allowing the export of Russian food and fertilisers had not been fulfilled.
The Kremlin also accused Kyiv of using the grain corridor for “combat purposes” and said it would now consider cargo ships travelling to Ukraine through the Black Sea potential military targets.
In response, Ukraine on Thursday said ships headed for Russian-controlled ports on the Black Sea would be treated as possibly carrying military cargo and prohibited navigation on “the northeastern part of the Black Sea and the Kerch Strait” near Crimea.
Ukraine has previously signalled it would be ready to continue with grain exports from its southern ports despite Russian threats, and called on the UN and neighbouring countries to secure safe passage for cargoes through joint patrols.
A senior United States security official told AFP that Russia was considering attacking civilian ships on the Black Sea and putting the blame on Kyiv.
Attacking civilian ships
In Crimea, a Ukrainian drone strike damaged four administrative buildings and killed a teenage girl, the Moscow-installed governor said.
It came a day after an unexplained fire at a military site in Crimea and an attack on the sole bridge linking the annexed peninsula to mainland Russia earlier in the week.
Ukrainian forces carried out the assault on the Kerch bridge using seaborne drones, a security service source told AFP.
On the front, fighting is concentrated in eastern Ukraine, where Kyiv’s counteroffensive is so far struggling to break through Russia’s defensive lines.
The grinding battles have left settlements near the front in ruins.
Near Bakhmut, in the surprisingly named settlement New York whose horizon is darkened by smoke rising from the battlefields around, Russian strikes have targeted its chemical factory.
“Maybe it’s because their assault on our village has stalled,” plant director Sergiy Dmytrenko, 34, told AFP.
“Maybe this is their new tactic.”