A fourth day of Russian missile strikes on Ukrainian Black Sea port installations on July 21 set grain storage facilities in the Odesa region on fire and destroyed a huge amount of food stored for export, causing damage and injuries, regional officials and the military said, as fighting continued along the whole eastern front.
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Regional Governor Oleh Kiper said that Russia launched Kalibr-type cruise missiles from vessels in the Black Sea, destroying a grain terminal and wounding two people.
“Unfortunately, a grain terminal of one of the agricultural enterprises of the Odesa region was hit. The enemy destroyed 100 tons of peas and 20 tons of barley. Two people were wounded in the explosion,” Kiper said.
Kiper said that, at first, two missiles hit the granary, causing a fire, then a third missile struck while firefighters were trying to extinguish the flames.
“Another missile hit the same enterprise, damaging agricultural and rescue equipment. A fire on an area of more than 200 square meters was quickly extinguished,” Kiper said.
Ukrainian Air Force spokesman Yuriy Ihnat said that up to four P-800 Onyx cruise missiles hit infrastructure targets south of the city of Odesa.
“Unfortunately, our means of detection and destruction are not enough to cover the entire territory of Ukraine and destroy incoming missiles and drones,” Ihnat said.
In Moscow, the Russian Defense Ministry said its navy carried out a live fire “exercise” in the northwest Black Sea on July 21, just days after the Kremlin said that cargo ships en route to Ukrainian ports on the Black Sea would be regarded as potential military targets.
The Black Sea Fleet “carried out live firing of anti-ship cruise missiles at the target ship in the combat training range in the northwestern part of the Black Sea,” the ministry said in a statement on Telegram.
On July 20, Russian missiles struck the Odesa and Mykolayiv regions, killing two people, wounding another 20, including five children, and causing extensive damage to port installations and stored grain.
The strikes also hit residential areas in the center of Odesa and Mykolayiv, setting large areas on fire.
The Ukrainian Energy Ministry said that grain terminals and port infrastructure in the ports of Odesa and Chornomorsk were targeted. In Chornomorsk, 60,000 tons of grain were destroyed over the past several days, the ministry said.
Russia’s Defense Ministry has said the series of strikes on southern Ukraine targeted 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 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.
Zelenskiy met on July 21 with military commanders to discuss the situation at the front and about the grain initiative.
Work continues to protect ports and the infrastructure of the grain initiative, he said, adding he had instructed the commanders to prepare an action plan for the continuation of the grain corridor and to work out the next diplomatic steps.
In New York the UN’s political affairs chief told the Security Council on July 21 that Russia’s attacks on Ukrainian Black Sea ports risk “having far-reaching impacts on global food security, in particular, in developing countries.”
Rosemary DiCarlo also said threats about the potential targeting of civilian vessels in Black Sea waters — made by both Russia and Ukraine — are unacceptable.
“Any risk of conflict spillover as a result of a military incident in the Black Sea — whether intentional or by accident — must be avoided at all costs, as this could result in potentially catastrophic consequences to us all,” she said.
The Black Sea escalation comes as Kyiv reports a new attempt by Russia to return to the offensive in the northeast.
“The enemy continues to focus its main efforts on Kupyansk [in the Kharkiv region], Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiyivka and Maryinka [in the Donetsk region], where 32 close combat battles were fought over the past day,” the General Staff of Ukraine’s military said on July 21.
Ukrainian defenders in Kupyansk repelled attacks by Russian troops southwest of Masyutivka, the military added.
Germany meanwhile announced that it has handed over the first 10 Leopard 1A5 tanks to Ukraine. In a message, the German Defense Ministry said the new package of military aid also included 20 MG3 machine guns for tanks and armored vehicles, 1,035 155-millimeter shells and smoke ammunition, among other items.
On July 20, the United States said U.S.-supplied cluster munitions are being deployed in the field. White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the munitions are having an impact on Russian defensive formations and maneuvering.
“We have gotten some initial feedback from the Ukrainians, and they’re using them quite effectively,” Kirby said at a news briefing.
In its daily intelligence update, Britain’s Defense Ministry said that up to 20,000 Russian convicts recruited by the Wagner mercenary group were killed in fighting in Bakhmut over the past several months.
Russian forces spearheaded by Wagner mercenaries captured Bakhmut in May, following months of intense and bloody fighting.
British intelligence said that, while it was a rare recent Russian military success, the battle for Bakhmut was also “one of the bloodiest episodes in modern military history.”
It estimated that at its peak, Wagner had some 40,000 convicts under contract early this year.
It said that the last convicts recruited under the so-called Project K program are likely to be released over the next several days, but it estimated that many will probably stay on as contract fighters.
With reporting by AP and Reuters