Russian ships struck Ukraine's port of Odesa with cruise missiles on Saturday, violating the deal brokered by Turkey and the United Nations that Moscow and Kyiv signed less than a day earlier so the port could operate freely to help ease the global food crisis.
Two Russian cruise missiles hit the port’s infrastructure, including a grain silo, but Ukraine's air defenses stopped two other missiles, according to Ukraine's military command. Some people were injured in the attack, but Odesa's regional governor, Maksym Marchenko, did not specify how many.
"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," Ukraine's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko said. “In case of non-fulfillment, Russia will bear full responsibility for global food crisis.”
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the agreement was meant to "unblock Ukrainian ports" from Russia's invasion since February 24, enabling authorities not only to resume large-scale grain and other agricultural exports "but also keep them protected" in Ukraine’s Black Sea region.
Ukraine, which is one of the world’s biggest exporters of wheat, sunflower oil and corn, has about US$10 billion in grain ready to be exported, he said, including 20 million metric tons from last year's harvest.
'A beacon of hope'
Crafting and signing the Black Sea Grain Agreement signed by Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the United Nations "took immense effort," U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said while announcing it.
The agreement, he said, clears the way for the resumption of commercial food exports from Ukraine's three ports in the Black Sea — Chernomorsk, Odesa and Yuzhny — and serves as "a beacon of hope" by helping to avoid a food shortage catastrophe for millions worldwide.
After the missile strike, however, Guterres' office said he "unequivocally condemns" the violence and that it is "imperative" for Russia, Ukraine and Turkey to fully implement the agreement, which calls for the three countries to cooperatively search cargo vessels in the region.
Russia's war over the past four months has blocked not only millions of metric tons of Ukrainian grain, but also Russian exports of grain and fertilizer.
"Yesterday, all parties made clear commitments on the global stage to ensure the safe movement of Ukrainian grain and related products to global markets," Guterres' office said in a statement from U.N. deputy 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."