Russia on July 20 launched a third consecutive round of air strikes on southern Ukraine, targeting port installations and grain storage facilities as well as civilian infrastructure and wounding several civilians, regional officials said.
The attacks came after Russia refused to extend a UN-sponsored deal that had allowed shipments of Ukrainian grain abroad, and warned that it would consider cargo ships on the Black Sea destined for Ukraine as potential military targets.
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In Mykolayiv, at least 18 civilians, including children, were wounded in an attack on a three-story residential building in the city center, regional Governor Vitaliy Kim said.
“The Russians hit the city center. A garage and a three-story residential building caught fire…. A total of 18 people were injured. Nine of them were hospitalized, including five children, while two people were rescued from under the rubble. It’s a miracle that we managed to save them,” Kim said.
In Odesa, grain and oil terminals were hit, and there was also destruction in the city center, Odesa regional Governor Oleh Kiper reported.
“A fire broke out on an area of 300 square meters. Relevant services work on site. It is known about two hospitalized victims…detailed information later,” Kiper said on Telegram.
The Ukrainian Energy Ministry said grain terminals and port infrastructure in the ports of Odesa and Chornomorsk were targeted. In Chornomorsk, 60,000 tons of grain were destroyed, the ministry said.
Ukraine’s air defense said in an update on July 20 that during the attack, Russia fired 19 cruise missiles and 19 kamikaze drones. It said it shot down 13 Iranian-made drones, two Kalibr cruise missiles, and three Iskander-K missiles.
Russia’s Defense Ministry has said strikes on Odesa and Mykolayiv were retaliation against facilities where it claimed Ukraine was building seaborne drones of the type that Moscow says damaged a bridge in the annexed region of Crimea.
But Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on his Telegram channel late on July 19 the Russian strikes had “deliberately” targeted sites in the Odesa region that are used to export grain after Russia refused to extend the grain deal.
“About 1 million tons of food is stored in the ports that were attacked today. Exactly the volume that should have been delivered to consumer countries in Africa and Asia a long time ago,” Zelenskiy said in a video message. “Everyone in the world should be interested in holding Russia accountable for terror,” he added.
After Ukraine said it would continue to export grain despite Moscow’s pullout from the deal, Russia announced that starting from July 20, it would consider international waters in northwestern and southeastern parts of the Black Sea “temporarily dangerous” for shipping and warned that it will consider any incoming vessel as a legitimate target.
The Russian statement prompted the White House to issue a warning that Moscow is preparing for possible attacks on civilian cargo ships in the Black Sea.
“Our information indicates that Russia 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.”
On July 19, Washington announced a $1.3 billion military aid package for Ukraine that includes advanced antiaircraft missile systems and other equipment.
The aid package is part of U.S. efforts to meet “Ukraine’s pressing requirements” although it will not be part of a drawdown from U.S. stocks and will therefore not arrive soon on the battlefield.
Zelenskiy said the new aid “will help save Ukrainian lives and move closer to our common victory,” and expressed gratitude for “the unwavering support of the friendly American people.”
The aid includes four additional national advanced antiaircraft missile systems (NASAMS) that Ukraine has used to defend its cities and infrastructure against Russian missile attacks.
In Russian-annexed Crimea, Moscow-installed Governor Sergei Aksyonov said on Telegram early on July 20 that a settlement in the northwestern part of the region was hit by Ukrainian drones overnight, and a teenage girl was killed in the attack.
“As a result of an attack by an enemy UAV, four administrative buildings were damaged in one settlement in northwestern Crimea…Unfortunately, it was not without victims — a teenage girl died,”Aksyonov wrote.
The information could not be independently confirmed.
Aksyonov’s claim came a day after he reported an explosion and fire at an ammunition depot in a Russian military facility in Crimea that he said prompted the evacuation of 2,000 civilians and partially closed the nearby Tavrida Highway.