Russia unleashed another night of attacks against Ukrainian port cities early Thursday, a day after warning that all ships headed to those ports could be treated as hostile, in what appeared to be intensifying efforts to block Ukraine’s ability to export grain across the Black Sea.
At least 19 people, including one child, were injured in the city center of Mykolaiv, a port city a short distance up an estuary off the Black Sea, after an explosion sparked a fire at a residential building, according to Vitaly Kim, head of the regional military administration.
The nearby port city of Odesa, already reeling from two nights of some of the biggest assaults on the city since the beginning of the war, was also targeted, resulting in a large fire in the city center, according to the regional military administrator.
Buildings had been hit and at least one person had been found dead under the rubble, Oleh Kiper, the regional governor of Odesa, said in a post on the Telegram messaging app. At least two people were injured.
The attacks come after Russia this week backed out of a deal that allowed for the shipment of grain from the region’s ports, fueling concern that food prices would rise globally. Ukrainian officials have accused Russia of using such shipments as leverage in the war, attempting to extend the repercussions of the conflict to the rest of the world.
Russia’s Ministry of Defense on Wednesday issued a warning to ship operators and other nations suggesting that any attempt to bypass the blockade might be seen as an act of war, sending wheat prices skyrocketing.
The White House said Wednesday in a statement to The Associated Press that Russia had further mined the routes into Ukraine’s ports and was preparing possible attacks on shipping vessels.
“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,” National Security Council spokesman Adam Hodge said in the statement.
The Black Sea Grain Initiative enabled food exports from Ukraine, one of the world’s major exporters of wheat, corn, sunflower seeds and vegetable oil, to reach global markets, tempering prices and easing shortages.
Wednesday’s missile and drone attacks appeared to home in on Ukraine’s grain export infrastructure, Ukrainian officials said. In Chornomorsk, just south of Odesa, 60,000 tons of grain waiting to be loaded on to ships was destroyed in the attack, according to Ukraine’s agricultural minister. That is enough to feed more than 270,000 people for a year, according to the World Food Program.
Josep Borrell Fontelles, the European Union’s top diplomat, harshly criticized Russia, saying that not only had Moscow withdrawn from the grain agreement, “but they are burning the grain.”
“What we already know is that this is going to create a big, a huge food crisis in the world,” he told reporters ahead of an E.U. meeting in Brussels.
In Thursday’s attack, Russian forces launched 19 cruise missiles and 19 drones overnight from the Black Sea and Crimea. Of those, five missiles and 13 drones were intercepted, Ukraine’s air force said.
Mr. Kiper said 12 drones and two missiles had been shot down over Odesa, but added that it was “not possible to destroy all the missiles, in particular, supersonic missiles,” which he said were “extremely difficult” to destroy.
He said the Russian attack had also damaged the Chinese consulate in Odesa. “This suggests that the enemy does not pay attention to anything,” he said, in an apparent reference to Russia’s deepening relationship with China. The claim could not be immediately verified and Beijing did not immediately comment.