Russian forces struck a grain terminal in the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson, Ukrainian officials said on Saturday, extending a bombardment of the country’s infrastructure that has raised alarm about Kyiv’s ability to ship grain to the world.
President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine has vowed to enhance air defenses around the port and the southern coast, but Kyiv’s resources are stretched thin and it faces difficult choices about where to deploy the limited number of air defense systems that can shoot down Russia’s most sophisticated missiles.
Ukraine continues to ask its Western allies to speed up the delivery of more air defense systems and warn that continued Russian bombardment could leave it without the necessary infrastructure to ship grain even if Black Sea shipping lanes open up. Moscow has struck Ukrainian ports near daily since pulling out of a deal last week that allowed Ukraine to ship its grain despite the war.
“In two or three months, we may not have a single port left,” Natalia Humeniuk, the spokeswoman for the Ukrainian military southern command, told French journalists this past week. “They want to dominate the Black Sea. They want to have a monopoly on grain,” she said.
On Saturday, Ms. Humeniuk said that Ukraine had taken measures to better protect the ports but warned that Russia may once again be adjusting its tactics before striking again.
The attack reported on Saturday hit a grain terminal in the Beryslav district and was just one of 29 attacks by Russian forces directed at Kherson in the past 24 hours, the Ukrainian military said. At least four civilians have been injured in those attacks, which were carried out with mortars, artillery, tanks and aircraft, the Ukrainian military said.
The bombardment of the port city came as tensions in the waters off the southern coast of Ukraine continued to rise, with Kyiv accusing Russian warships of threatening a civilian vessel and Russia’s Black Sea Fleet running drills off Ukraine’s southern coast this month. Moscow has warned that any ships sailing to Ukraine’s ports would be considered potentially hostile.
The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said on Friday that the Russian naval posture in the Black Sea, which includes a warning that ships bound for Ukrainian ports would be potentially seen as carrying military cargo, was most “likely intentionally ambiguous to generate widespread concern about possible detention by the Russian navy or outright strikes on civilian vessels.”
“The Kremlin likely aims for this posturing to have a chilling effect on maritime activity so that Russian naval assets do not need to enforce an actual blockade of Ukrainian ports,” the analysts wrote.
Ukrainian border guards said they had intercepted a threatening message from a Russian warship communicating on an open channel to a civilian ship. The claim was amplified by Russian military bloggers who replayed a recording of the message. The message and the claim could not be independently verified.
Ukraine has vowed to step up its efforts to target Russian warships and vessels using Russian ports and has been working to expand its fleet of naval drones, which it has used to attack and harass the Russian Black Sea Fleet.
In an apparent recognition of the danger they pose, the Russian authorities announced a nighttime navigation ban for all small vessels near the Kerch Strait. This month, Ukraine used naval drones in an attack on the Kerch Strait Bridge, which links the Russian-occupied Crimean Peninsula to Russia, and is a primary supply route for Russian troops fighting in the south of Ukraine. The attack left the roadway badly damaged. The rail line over the bridge, however, is still functioning and Ukraine has vowed to continue mounting attacks.
Against this backdrop, it seemed unlikely that Moscow would bend to international pressure and rejoin a deal that for nearly a year had allowed Ukraine to export tens of millions of tons of grain from its ports. Moscow has complained that the deal is one-sided in Ukraine’s favor, and that Western sanctions imposed after its invasion of Ukraine have continued to restrict the sale of its own agricultural products.
Still, African leaders meeting with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia in St. Petersburg on Friday called for the revival of the Black Sea grain deal, saying that the continent was disproportionately affected by disruptions to the global food supply, while stopping short of directly criticizing Moscow for pulling out of the agreement.
“The grain deal must be extended for the benefit of all the peoples of the world, Africans in particular,” Moussa Faki Mahamat, the chairman of the African Union Commission, said at a Russia-Africa summit on Friday. “This conflict is now directly affecting us as well,” President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa said.
President Azali Assoumani of Comoros, the chairman of the African Union, said Russia’s promise of free grain for six African nations announced this week was “important but maybe not enough.”
Here is what else is happening in the war:
On Friday evening, at least one missile strike in the city of Dnipro, in central Ukraine, damaged a high-rise apartment building, hours after Russia accused Kyiv of firing missiles at two Russian cities. “We will do everything to bring Russia to full punishment for aggression and terror against our people,” Mr. Zelensky said on Friday.
Rescue efforts were completed overnight, the regional military administration said on Saturday morning. Nine people, including two children, were injured, local officials said. There were no casualties reported at the apartment building. The 12-story building was new, and many apartments were still unoccupied, local residents said.
Russian forces also hit the headquarters of the Ukrainian security services, known as the S.B.U., Mr. Zelensky said. There were no injuries reported there.
The visit by Russia’s defense minister, Sergei K. Shoigu, this past week to North Korea, during which he met with the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un, was probably a bid to secure additional weapons and political support for the war in Ukraine, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said on Saturday.
“We’re seeing Russia desperately looking for support for weapons wherever it can find them,” Mr. Blinken said, responding to a reporter’s question in Brisbane, Australia. “We see that in North Korea. We see that as well with Iran.”